To quote theopedia,
“Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.”
An alternative perspective is evangelical egalitarianism, which asserts that “…there should be no gender-based role distinctions or limitations placed on women in the home, church, or society.”
I actually reject both of those terms.
I think they’re asking the wrong question. We need to start with a different one, beyond what it means to be a man or a woman.
What does it mean to be human?
In my opinion, it is sad that most conversations about being human are almost inherently feminist conversations. Women have historically been the gender that has called us all back toward authentic humanity, toward goodness, compassion, integrity and strength of character. Men traditionally have not, and that is why there’s sadness.
The marvelous ability of a woman to carry and birth a child is in and of itself a call toward relationship. It’s a call away from individualism and independence and toward authentic personhood.
Women, generally speaking, by their very presence call us back to being human.
When you read my upcoming novel EVE, you’ll see that Eve is a gift to Adam, in the best sense of gift. Her existence is an invitation for Adam to turn away from his alone-ness and independence; to turn toward face-to-face relationship and the mystery of interdependence.
The problem is that we have not made the conversation about being human, but about gender or social status. We have kept the language largely in the arena of power and position by using terms like equality and access, the arrogance of being purveyors of the new colonialism and granting someone “other than us” a seat at the table.
We barter a piece of the pie in hopes that it will suffice and prove satisfactory enough to quiet the dissenting voices.
This is why we adopt words such as equalitarian, egalitarian or complementarian. It is the language of power, of either/or, of polarity and division, of categorization and conscription, matrix language.
I like to refer to as “scale-language.” Scale language is about trying to find balance between two opposing polar opposites. It tries to put people in their place. It uses language like “either/or” and “in/out.” As long as men can keep the language itself within the domain of power and scale, they win.
And this kind of winning is actually a massive loss.
Men and women are different. Obviously. But so is one woman from another woman or one man from another. The distinctions between the average man and woman are small compared to the spectrum that exists in either femininity or masculinity.
I believe the entire conversation has to challenged and re-framed, not in scale language but in relational humanity.
I believe that is where we are heading and must go if we have hope to survive together as a human race.
One day the question will not be, “You are a woman, what do you have to offer that is acceptable to us inside our definition of your limitations?
No, the question will be, ‘Who are you?”
The reality of your femininity will only be an added component and expression of your humanity, not a limitation.
The fact that we’re human is the point.
One last thought: Thankfully, we no longer use ‘complementarian’ justification in a conversation about slaves. No one seriously believes that a free person and a slave were “equal but complementary,” each needing to stay in his or her station in life in the great chain of being so that proper order can be maintained. It sounds utterly absurd, not to mention despicable.
So too would such a statement referring to Jews and Greeks. But we still use that language with regard to female and male.
For me, the entire scale has got to be eradicated.
Instead of looking at humanity as a scale, wouldn’t it be different to see it as a spectrum, reflecting the limitless dimensions of the maternal and paternal nature of God. In part this is why I wrote EVE.
Let’s have a new conversation about being human.
A conversation about being human is a conversation about Jesus and about the incarnation. In Galatians, Paul declares that “in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”
Paul is not saying that we should diminish or deny the integrity and wonder of what makes us persons (including our maleness and femaleness). No, he’s calling us away from polarity and power, to focus on who Jesus is in us as human beings.
It is a startling and hope-filled invitation back to our humanity.
If you’re interested in hearing more, pre-order my new book, EVE to explore the idea of gender and humanity through the Genesis story. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!