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Complementarianism is a theological view in some denominations of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Islam,[1] that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family, and religious life. Complementary and its cognates are currently used to denote this view.[2] Some Christians interpret the Bible as prescribing a complementary view of gender, and therefore adhere to gender-specific roles that preclude women from specific functions of ministry within the community.[3][4][a] Though women may be precluded from certain roles and ministries, they still hold foundational equality in value and dignity. The phrase used to describe this is "ontologically equal, functionally different."[5]

Within a Judeo-Christian marital relationship, complementarianism prescribes headship and servant leading roles to men,[6][7] and support roles to women, being based upon the interpretation of certain biblical passages. One precept of complementarianism is that while women may assist in decision-making processes, the ultimate authority for the decision lies in the headship responsibility of the male. Its contrasting perspective is Christian egalitarianism, which holds that positions of authority and responsibility in marriage and religion should be equally available to both females and males.

The Foundation Documents of The Gospel Coalition describes complementarianism as follows:

In God’s wise purposes, men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways. God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church,[b] the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord.[8]


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."[9] Many proponents and also opponents of complementarianism see the Bible as the infallible word of God.[10]

The complementarian position claims to uphold what has been the most traditional teaching[11] 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".[12]

While they do not necessarily use the term "complementarianism", many Catholics are advocates of complementarianism with regard to the social doctrine of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that "God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity"[13] 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."[13]


The term "complementarianism" was first used by the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988.[14]

Roles in marriage[edit]

The complementarian view of marriage asserts gender-based roles in marriage.[15] 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 lead their families as Head of Household, and to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. They cite the Bible as instructing wives to respect their husbands' leadership out of reverence for Christ.[16][17] 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.[18]

An example of the complementarian view of marriage can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message (2000),[17] an excerpt from which is quoted here:

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."[19]

The expression Sponsa Christi is sometimes used by complementarian denominations such as the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They claim that the apostle Paul advocated such views in the New Testament. According to Catholic doctrine, Christ symbolizes the bridegroom, while the Church (Ecclesia) represents the bride.[20]

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.[19] The complementarian view holds that women should not hold church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men.[2] For instance, Frank Page, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 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" while the office of deacon are open to both men and women (excluding Catholicism)[21][15] According to complementarianism, women are not completely forbidden from speaking within a church since Paul speaks about women prophesying inside the church.[22]

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, they strongly believe that certain governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (1 Cor 14:33–38; 11:2–16; 1 Tim 2:11–15; 1 Timothy 3:1–7).”[19] Most complementarians believe that women should not be ordained as pastors or as evangelists in some cases, while others believe that it is acceptable for women to be evangelists but not pastors.[23] This would not support placing women in top leadership roles in the church or family that would imply or provide any authority over men. Which other specific ministry roles are open to women varies among complementarians.[15]

In his article "Women Preachers, Divorce, and a Gay Bishop–What’s the Link?", Southern Baptist theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler asserts that "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". He believes the same is true of arguments for the ordination of divorced persons and for homosexuals.[24]

Some traditionally Catholic countries have been called matriarchal because of the high value that was placed on women. Numerous women have been beatified and 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".[25]

Complementarian advocates[edit]

Christian denominations[edit]

Christian denominations that support some form of gender complementarity, either in church or the home, include many conservative Protestant denominations (as well as many non-denominational Protestant churches), the Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.[26] Some groups that have outlined specific positions include the Southern Baptist Convention,[15] Presbyterian Church in America,[27] Anglican Diocese of Sydney,[citation needed] the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (Australia),[28] Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,[27] Roman Catholic Church,[29] Conservative Mennonites,[citation needed] Newfrontiers,[citation needed] Jehovah's Witnesses,[30] Evangelical Free Church of America,[27] Christian and Missionary Alliance,[27] Sovereign Grace Ministries,[27] and the Calvary Chapel movement.[citation needed]

Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood[edit]

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is the primary evangelical Christian organization that exists to promote the complementarian view of gender issues.[31][32][33] CBMW's current president is Denny Burk[34] who is also a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce Bible College, the undergraduate wing of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The CBMW published a semi-annual academic journal 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.


According to Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), an organization that adopts a Christian 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] CBE prefaces their criticism with acknowledgement of some positions they share in common with complementarians: a mutual love for and commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment to justice as a biblical ideal, a devotion to Scripture as being God-inspired, and a desire to see the world embrace the gospel of Christ.[38] They are divided by worldviews that CBE sees as reflecting the moral teachings of God and their purposes in this world. CBE maintains that these differing views have "enormous consequences". CBE President Mimi Haddad asserts that Christians are divided over patriarchy as they once were over slavery. She characterizes those divisions as different views of the nature, purpose, and value of humanity, all based on gender.[38]

Domestic abuse[edit]

Hierarchy in relationships was isolated as a factor that positively correlates with the acceptance of beliefs that facilitate abuse in a 2018 study by Jensen et al.; gender complementarianism was used as an indicator of hierarchical relations.[39] Critics of complementarianism have argued that it can be abused to uphold abuse and reduces women's ability to hold male abusers accountable.[40][41] Some have criticized complementarianism as promoting a power imbalance that facilitates abuse.[42] Hannah Paasch, one of the people who started the #ChurchToo hashtag, argues that complementarianism "feeds the rape culture" in aspects of American Christianity influenced by Western secular society.[42] Supporters of complementarian ideas counter that good leadership on the part of males, as demanded by the Bible, precludes and forbids abuse.[43] John Piper argues that complementarianism's prescription of protective male leadership helps protect women from sexual abuse.[42]

Other religions[edit]

Differentiation of women's roles on the basis of religious beliefs are not unique to Christianity or Western culture.[44]

Rabbinic Judaism[edit]

Different movements in Rabbinic Judaism, as distinct from Karaite Judaism,[45][46] 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."[47] 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.[citation needed]

Baháʼí Faith[edit]

The Baháʼí 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".[48]

See also[edit]

Related secular:


  1. ^ According to a complementarian perspective, unqualified men are also to be precluded from these ministries.
  2. ^ See Ephesians 5:25–33 ESV.


  1. ^ Karin van Nieuwkerk (21 July 2009). Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292773769. 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. ^ a b Duncan, Ligon (2004-12-15). "19 Objections to Complementarianism — 1 Timothy 2:8–15". Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Archived from the original on 2005-02-13. Retrieved 2007-05-29.
  3. ^ Wright, N.T. (4 Sep 2004). "Women's Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis". Archived from the original on 13 September 2016. Retrieved 12 Jul 2010.
  4. ^ Blomberg, Craig; Markley, Jennifer Foutz (1 November 2010). Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Baker Academic. p. 53. ISBN 978-0801031779.
  5. ^ Piper, John (1991). Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. pp. 31–59. ISBN 9781856840453.
  6. ^ Piper, John (November 10, 2007). "Sexual Complementarity: Session 3". Desiring God. Archived from the original on July 18, 2024. Retrieved July 18, 2024.
  7. ^ Köstenberger, Andreas J.; Köstenberger, Margaret Elizabeth (January 15, 2019). "5 Myths about Complementarianism". Crossway. Archived from the original on July 18, 2024. Retrieved July 18, 2024.
  8. ^ "Foundation Documents of The Gospel Coalition". The Gospel Coalition. Archived from the original on July 18, 2024. Retrieved July 18, 2024.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Boa, Kenneth. "All About Eve: Feminism and the Meaning of Equality". Mission for the Third Millennium. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  11. ^ Broken Link Historical/traditional interpretation of women speaking in the church; Commentaries Archived 2011-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Recovering Biblical manhood and womanhood, p. 11, Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
  13. ^ a b "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Archived from the original on 2010-01-15. Retrieved 2009-12-15. sections 2333–2335.
  14. ^ Griswold, Eliza (2021-07-25). "The Unmaking of Biblical Womanhood". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2022-03-26.
  15. ^ a b c d The Baptist Faith and Message Archived 2009-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, Southern Baptist Convention.
  16. ^ "CBMW » About Us". Archived from the original on 2009-01-30. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
  17. ^ a b "The Baptist Faith & Message". Archived from the original on 2003-10-09. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
  18. ^ A Christ-Centered Marriage Archived 2012-05-12 at the Wayback Machine Rev. David Shadday
  19. ^ a b c "Core Beliefs: The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood." Archived 2010-11-03 at the Wayback Machine Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), 1987. Web:13 Jul 2010.
  20. ^ God's Design for Marriage Christopher Mitchell, The Lutheran Witness. Retrieved 2-27-2011
  21. ^ Page, Frank (1 October 2011). "Focus on Doctrine The Church~Who Is in Charge?". SBC Life. Southern Baptist Convention. Archived from the original on 12 August 2018. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  22. ^ Boa, Kenneth. "All About Eve: Feminism and the Meaning of Equality". Mission for the Third Millennium. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  23. ^ Clouse, Robert G (1989). Women in Ministry: Four Views. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 0-8308-1284-9.
  24. ^ Mohler, Albert, "Women Preachers, Divorce, and a Gay Bishop–What’s the Link?" August 5, 2003
  25. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2010-01-29. section 1577.
  26. ^ Chad Meister, J. B. Stump (14 May 2010). Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 9780203851937. 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.
  27. ^ a b c d e Wayne A. Grudem (2006). Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism. Multnomah Books. p. 286. ISBN 9781590525180. Retrieved 2019-10-30. 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). 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. ^ "FIEC Constitution" (PDF). FIEC. 2018. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  29. ^ Glen Harold Stassen, David P. Gushee (17 January 2003). Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 9780830826681. 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 ...
  30. ^ "Marriage – Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY". wol.jw.org.
  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] Archived 2017-02-03 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  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) [2][permanent dead link]
  37. ^ "Complementarians—What's in a Name? | Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE)". Archived from the original on 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  38. ^ a b Haddad, Mimi. President's Message: Egalitarians and Complementarians. One Gospel, Two Worldviews. Mutuality, Summer 2014, vol. 21, no. 2. Online: http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/presidents-message-egalitarians-and-complementarians Quote: Haddad asks the rhetorical question: "If male authority is part of God's design, we would expect to see society flourish where patriarchy holds sway. Is this the case?" The author replies:

    Not at all. In what constitutes the largest human holocaust in history, two hundred million girls are missing from the world, primarily in places where patriarchy is most rampant. The face of poverty, abuse, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, and hunger is mostly female. Not surprisingly, the international think tank, The Millennium Project, which tackles humanity’s most challenging problems, recognizes gender equality and empowering women (in other words, dismantling patriarchy) as 'essential for addressing the global challenges facing humanity'. Patriarchy does not advance God’s justice, but is an injustice that must be overcome.
    "Dismantling patriarchy will require a worldview that perceives male rule as a result of sin; it distorts the nature of men and women as equals and their intended purpose to use their gifts with shared authority. Justice and the gospel are furthered when superiority and dominance are challenged by human equality—a biblical ideal."

    Archived 2015-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 21 Apr 2015
  39. ^ Jensen, Mary; Jankowski, Peter; Sandage, Steven; Cornell, Miriam; Bissonette, Cheryl; Johnson, Andy; Crabtree, Sarah (22 March 2018). "Religious Beliefs and Domestic Violence Myths". Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. 10 (4). Retrieved 7 February 2019. We observed positive associations among Calvinist tradition-specific religious beliefs and the 3 indicators of the latent construct of hierarchical relationality (i.e., hierarchical relational expectations, gender complementarianism, and existential defensiveness)... The suppression process further indicated that the positive direct association between Calvinist beliefs and DVMA seemed to be accounted for by the latent construct of hierarchical relationality.
  40. ^ Hamence, Erica. "Reflecting on complementarianism and domestic violence". Common Grace.
  41. ^ "3 Ways Egalitarian Theology Opposes Abuse". CBE International.
  42. ^ a b c "Evangelical Pastor Claims Traditional Gender Roles Can Prevent Sexual Abuse". HuffPost. March 26, 2018.
  43. ^ "Complementarians Should Be Toughest on Abuse". Desiring God. June 12, 2018.
  44. ^ Joseph, Suad; Afsaneh Najmabadi (2003). Encyclopedia of women & Islamic cultures. Brill. p. 211. ISBN 90-04-12819-0.
  45. ^ "Karaite Customs and Traditions". The Karaite Jews of America. Retrieved 2023-11-09.
  46. ^ "About Karaite Judaism | Karaite Jews of Europe". karaitejewsofeurope. Retrieved 2023-11-09.
  47. ^ Rights and Priorities – Discrimination? Archived 2012-09-04 at the Wayback Machine—a public address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
  48. ^ Breneman, Anne; Mbuh, Rebecca N. (28 February 2006). Women in the New Millennium: The Global Revolution. University Press of America. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-7618-3342-0.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]