Complementarianism, Secularism, Sexism, and Vocabulary

Note: These thoughts may be a bit scattered. I haven’t put them all together yet in logical string. Forgive me. Also please know that when I talk about what rubs me the wrong way about complementarianism, I don’t want to offend or put anyone down. I have complementarian friends whom I love, and I mean nothing against them. They’re my friends for a reason. I’ve just been having some thoughts, and I’d like to get them out so I can start to process them better.

In class last week, somehow the word “slut” came up. It’s an advanced class. You just never know what’s going to happen. Yesterday, during an open Q/A session, the word “fellatio” came up, and I am not ashamed to say I let another student handle that one. So anyway, we were talking about the word “slut,” and they understood and wanted to know what you would call a man who was sexually promiscuous. And I realized that there is no male equivalent to it. Sure, there are words – man-whore, player, womanizer – but none of them inherently carries the same connotation and shame as “slut.” It all depends on how the man being called these things takes it, and men always have the option of taking it as a compliment if they are proud of their sexual conquests. Women don’t. This led me to an astonishing revelation (astonishing to me anyway):

We don’t shame men for being sexual or having sex (or even masturbating, for that matter). We just don’t. Men are supposed to go out and sow their wild oats, “boys will be boys,” and all that jazz while women are supposed to protect their chastity at all times with an iron belt (figuratively or literally) until they get married.

The really big problem with this way of thinking is that it has crept its way into the church in what we’re calling “complementarianism.” Women, in the complementarian way of thinking, are supposed to be delicate flowers, standing quietly beside their husbands, taking care of the children. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be the leaders, the deciders, the enforcers, the conquerors. This is probably an over-generalization, and the truth is that folks who subscribe to complementarianism all have a slightly different brand, and nobody can really agree on exactly what it is. To read more about that, check out this post by Rachel Held Evans. The point is that in this school of thought, men and women have separate roles in the world, in the church, and in the family based solely on gender.

My first point of frustration with the general complementarian way of thinking is that it seems to me to be largely secular. It is presented as a biblical concept even though there are numerous places in the Bible where women are considered equally as important/strong/valuable/reliable/capable/intelligent as men (yes, even at a time in the world when a woman’s testimony was not valid in a court of law). Furthermore, masculinity as defined by complementarianism seems to be the same as modern Western masculinity. As far as I know, there is no mention in the Bible of Jesus watching Ultimate Fighting and working on his truck, yet that is what one complementarian pastor says “real men” should be doing.

My other major issue with complementarianism is that it presumes to know what people have to offer to the church and the family based almost entirely on their gender, and only a tiny, secondary bit on who God made them individually to be. This is not a culture of calling or equality or giftedness; it is a culture of power. It’s not a question of who might be the best fit for the job; it’s a question of who gets to be in charge. And in complementarian churches, men are the ones with the power.

Now, I’m not saying to want to take power away from men just for the sake of equality, and I’m most definitely not looking for a complete reversal of power. If a man is better suited for a particular job, then by all means, he should do it. But the key word there is particular. If we start making blanket statements about which gender is better suited for what, we ignore the beauty of God’s individual creations. When we make boys blue and girls pink, we miss out on all the other colors that make the world wonderful and interesting. And more dangerously, we silence voices that have a right to be heard because they come from image-bearers of God. (If you’re ready to dismiss that last statement or get defensive about it, please ask yourself why.)

I believe we are all necessary in the world because each of us uniquely bears the image of God. I also believe that we are all in the time and place we are for a purpose. When Scripture talks about the church as the body of Christ, it does not differentiate between men and women. In fact, it says we are all one in Christ, that the labels of this world (position, gender, race) do not exist. Can we please act like we are one, function as one, and help each other find and foster our gifts and purposes instead of broadly prescribing them for entire gender groups? And can we have the courage to allow people to be who they are even though doing so might threaten our positions of power? I think we’ll all function better that way – when we give ourselves and others permission and grace and an open invitation to offer our true selves to the world.

Author: beth

I'm told that I'm cleverly stupid, and that's why people are friends with me. And here I thought it was because I was so dang cute...

2 thoughts on “Complementarianism, Secularism, Sexism, and Vocabulary”

  1. Brilliant! Amen. And trust me, if one day you ever have a little girl, you will be shocked and dismayed by all the little and big ways that language teaches women to be less than. “Slut” is just the beginning!

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