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Complementarianism is a theological view held by some in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,[1] that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere. The word "complementary" and its cognates are currently used[by whom?] to denote this view. For some of those whose complementarian view is biblically-prescribed, these separate roles preclude women from specific functions of ministry within the Church,[2] with the notable exception of the leadership role of the deaconess, in many Christian denominations.[3] It assigns leadership roles to men and support roles to women, based on certain biblical passages. One of its precepts is that while women may assist in the decision making process, the ultimate authority for the decision is the purview of the male in marriage, courtship, and in the polity of churches subscribing to this view.

Contrasting viewpoints maintain either that women and men should share identical authority and responsibilities in marriage, religion and elsewhere (Egalitarianism), or that men and women are of intrinsically different worth (a position usually known as chauvinism, usually male, although female varieties do exist).


Complementarianism holds that "God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church."[4] Proponents of Complementarianism generally see the Bible as the infallible word of God.[5]

The complementarian position is seen to uphold what has been the most traditional teaching[6] on gender roles in the church. However, the terms traditionalist or hierarchicalist are usually avoided by complementarians, as the former “implies an unwillingness to let Scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior”, while the latter “overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion of equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence”. Therefore, they prefer the term complementarian, “since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences”.[7]

The Catholic Church advocates complementarianism with regards to the social doctrine of the Church. Catholic catechism asserts that "God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity"[8] but also that the harmony of society "depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out."[8]

In contrast with adherents of Biblical patriarchy, some complementarians are open to the possibility of women assuming leadership roles in civic and commercial life.

Roles in marriage[edit]

The complementarian view of marriage asserts gender-based roles in marriage.[9] A husband is considered to have the God-given responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead his family. A wife is to collaborate with her husband, respect him, and serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Complementarians assert that the Bible instructs husbands to lovingly lead their families and to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and instructs wives to respect their husbands’ leadership out of reverence for Christ.[10][11] The husband is also meant to hold moral accountability for his wife and to exhibit a sacrificial love for her. The wife is meant to respond to her husband's love for her with love in-kind and by receiving his service and leadership willingly.[12]

An example of the Complementarian view of marriage can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message (2000):[11]

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Article XVIII. The Family. Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teaches that "Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission—domestic, religious, or civil—ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin."[13]

The expression Sponsa Christi is sometimes used by complementarians, who note that Paul of Tarsus himself advocated such views. Accordingly, the Christ symbolizes the bridegroom, while the Church (Ecclesia) represents the bride.[14]

Roles in the Church[edit]

Based on their interpretation of certain scriptures Complementarians view women's roles in ministry, particularly in church settings, as limited.[13] The complementarian view holds that women should not hold church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men.[15] For instance, Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a large conservative denomination has written that "...while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of Pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."[9][16] According to Complementarianism, women are not completely forbidden from speaking within a church since Paul speaks about women prophesying inside the church.[17]

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood holds that “[i]n the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (1 Cor; 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).”[13] Some believe that women should be ordained neither as a pastor nor as an evangelist, while others believe that it is acceptable for women to be evangelists but not pastors.[18] This would not support placing women in leadership roles in the church or family that would imply or provide some authority over men. Which other specific ministry roles are open to women varies among complementarians.[9]

Being critical of the egalitarian position, Southern Baptist theological Albert Mohler stated,

The arguments used in support of the ordination of women require the dismissal or "reinterpretation" of specific biblical texts which disallow women in the teaching office. The same is true of arguments for the ordination of divorced persons--and for homosexuals [19]

Roman Catholic complementarianism has generally advocated roles for women as teachers, mothers and nuns. Some traditionally Catholic countries have been called matriarchal because of the high value that was placed on women, and there are numerous women who have been beatified and who are venerated among the saints. However, the Catholic Church restricts ordination to men, since "The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry."[20]

Other religions[edit]

Differentiation of women's roles on the basis of religious beliefs are not unique to Christianity or Western culture.[21]


Christian denominations that support complementarianism include many conservative Protestant denominations (as well as many non-denominational Protestant churches), the Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox churches.[22] These groups of churches that support forms of this position specifically include the Southern Baptist Convention,[9] Eastern Orthodox Church,[23] Presbyterian Church in America,[24] Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,[24] Catholic Church,[25] Conservative Mennonites, Newfrontiers, Jehovah's Witnesses,[26] Evangelical Free Church of America,[27] Christian and Missionary Alliance,[27] Sovereign Grace Ministries,[27] and the Calvary Chapel movement.


Different movements in Judaism have adopted differing views in gender relations. The Lubavitcher Rebbe stated, "In the Divine plan for creation, men and women have distinct, diverse missions. These missions complement each other, and together bring the Divine plan to harmonious fruition. The role of one is neither higher nor lower than the role of the other: they are simply different."[28] Contrasting this, the Reform Jewish movement is entirely egalitarian, both in services and in daily life. In North America, the Conservative movement is likewise predominantly egalitarian. Although egalitarianism has been adopted in services and life by some of Orthodox Jewry, complementarianism continues to be more prevalent in Orthodox communities.


Within Islam, "a tension exists between the egalitarian view that believers are judged on the basis of merit and the inegalitarian view that women and men should fulfill distinct, complementary roles in the family and society".[21]


The Baha'i Faith, proclaims that equality is not to deny that differences in function between women and men exist but rather to affirm the complementary roles men and women fulfill in the home and society at large. "“The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings . . . become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.”.[29]

Complementarian advocates[edit]

Parachurch organizations that have been described as complementarian include Focus on the Family, Cru, and Promise Keepers. Focus on the Family and the Promise Keepers do not take a position on women in the church, but both believe in male headship in the family. Campus Crusade for Christ "has not taken any role of women in ministry", though its FamilyLife organization directed by Dennis Rainey sponsors "Weekend to Remember" marriage conferences which reportedly teach male headship.[30]

Noted supporters of the Complementarian position include J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Adrian Rogers, Richard Land, Ligon Duncan, Gerald Bray, Terry Virgo, John Wimber, Tim Keller, John F. MacArthur, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, and Elisabeth Elliot.[citation needed]

Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood[edit]

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is an evangelical Christian organization promoting a complementarian view of gender issues.[31][32][33] CBMW's current president is Dr. Owen Strachan[34] who is also a professor at Boyce Bible College, the undergraduate wing of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The CBMW publishes a biannual newsletter called the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.[35]

Complementarian movements within feminism[edit]

New feminism is a predominantly Catholic philosophy which emphasizes a belief in an integral complementarity of men and women, rather than the superiority of men over women or women over men.[36]

Difference feminism is a philosophy that stresses that men and women are ontologically different versions of the human being. Many Catholics adhere to and have written on the philosophy, though the philosophy is not specifically Catholic.


According to Christians for Biblical Equality, an organization that adopts an egalitarian approach, complementarianism "sidesteps the question at issue, which is not whether there are beneficial differences between men and women, but whether these differences warrant the inequitable roles, rights, and opportunities prescribed by advocates of gender hierarchy."[37]

See also[edit]

Related secular:

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Karin van Nieuwkerk. Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West. University of Texas Press. Retrieved 2007-12-31. Secular feminists in Muslim societies demanded full equality in the public sphere, calling for access to education, work, and political participation as part of women's self-development and the empowering of the society in the decolonizing process. Within this feminist framework women accepted the notion of complementarity in the private sphere, upholding the notion of male predominance, regarded as benevolent predominance in the family. They called upon men to fulfill their duties, protecting and providing in ways that upheld the rights and dignity of women. 
  2. ^ Wright, N.T. (4 Sep 2004). "Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis.". Retrieved 12 Jul 2010. 
  3. ^ Blomberg, Craig; Markley, Jennifer Foutz (1 November 2010). Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Baker Academic. p. 53. ISBN 080103177X. 
  4. ^ Duncan, Ligon (2004-12-15). "Male Authority and Female Equality: In the beginning—Genesis 1-3 being understood as part of God’s created design". Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  5. ^ Boa, Kenneth. "All About Eve: Feminism and the Meaning of Equality". Mission for the Third Millennium. Retrieved 21 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Historical/traditional interpretation of women speaking in the church; Commentaries
  7. ^ Recovering Biblical manhood and womanhood, p. 11, Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
  8. ^ a b "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2009-12-15.  sections 2333-2335.
  9. ^ a b c d The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptist Convention.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ A Christ-Centered Marriage Rev. David Shadday
  13. ^ a b c "Core Beliefs: The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood." Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), 1987. Web:13 Jul 2010.
  14. ^ God's Design for Marriage Christopher Mitchell, The Lutheran Witness, accessed 2-27-2011
  15. ^ Duncan, Ligon (2004-12-15). "19 Objections to Complementarianism — 1 Timothy 2:8-15". Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  16. ^ Page, Frank. SBC President's Page. Online:
  17. ^ Boa, Kenneth. "All About Eve: Feminism and the Meaning of Equality". Mission for the Third Millennium. Retrieved 21 November 2012. 
  18. ^ Clouse, Robert G (1989). Women in Ministry: Four Views. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 0-8308-1284-9. 
  19. ^ Mohler, Albert, "Women Preachers, Divorce, and a Gay Bishop–What’s the Link?" August 5, 2003
  20. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2010-01-29.  section 1577.
  21. ^ a b Joseph, Suad; Afsaneh Najmabadi (2003). Encyclopedia of women & Islamic cultures. Brill. p. 211. ISBN 90-04-12819-0. 
  22. ^ Chad Meister, J. B. Stump. Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction. Routledge. Retrieved 2007-12-31. For example in many conservative protestant denominations (as well as many non-denominational Protestant Churches) women cannot be pastors elders or deacons. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches also prohibit women from entering any clerical positions. 
  23. ^ Wentzel Van Huyssteen. Encyclopedia of Science and Religion: 1. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved 2007-12-31. a number of orthodox and neo-orthodox thinkers in the following century held some type of complementarian position. 
  24. ^ a b Wayne A. Grudem. Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism. Multnomah Books. Retrieved 2007-12-31. Three influential denominations are included among those that hold a Two-Point Complementarian position. These three denominations are the Southern Baptist Convention (at 26 million members, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States), the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (2.6 million members), and the smaller but very influential Presbyterian Church in America (316,000 members). 
  25. ^ Glen Harold Stassen, David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. InterVarsity Press. Retrieved 2007-12-31. What results is a claim for male leadership in home and church both from creation and from the perceived witness of the ... Catholic complementarians make the case from natural law, Protestants from Scripture, but both argue that a ... 
  26. ^
  27. ^ a b c Wayne A. Grudem. Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism. Multnomah Books. Retrieved 2007-12-31. Other Two-Point Complementarian groups include several denominations and organizations that historically have been strongly truth-based and doctrinally vigilant. Included in this group are the Evangelical Free Church of America, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the more recently formed Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly PDI). 
  28. ^ Rights and Priorities - Discrimination? - a public address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
  29. ^ Abdu'l-Baha (1982). The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 211. ISBN 0-87743-172-8. 
  30. ^ Wayne A. Grudem. Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism. Multnomah Books. Retrieved 2007-12-31. Some parachurch organizations in this category are Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers. Both have decided not to take any official stand on the role of women in the church, but both uphold male headship in the home. In its official policies, Campus Crusade for Christ also falls in this category since the organization has not taken any role of women in ministry, while Family Life, a division of Campus Crusade under the direction of Dennis Rainey, clearly teaches male headship in the home at its "Weekend to Remember" marriage conferences. 
  31. ^ Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Marie Cantlon (2006), Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, Indiana University Press, p. 468.
  32. ^ Pamela Cochran (2005), Evangelical Feminism: a History, NYU Press, p. 160.
  33. ^ Agnieszka Tennant, "Nuptial Agreements," Christianity Today, March 11, 2002.
  34. ^ CBMW web site: [1], accessed 1 July 2014.
  35. ^ Sarah Sumner and Phillip E. Johnson (2003), Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership, InterVarsity Press, p. 38.
  36. ^ [Allen, Sr. Prudence Allen. 'Man-Woman Complementarity: the Catholic Inspiration.' Logos 9, issue 3 (Summer 2006)]
  37. ^—whats-name

Further reading[edit]

  • Piper, John; Grudem, Wayne A. Recovering Biblical Manhood Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Crossway Books. ISBN 978-1-58134-806-4. 

External links[edit]