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Complementarianism is a theological view in Christianity, Judaism, 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[2] to denote this view. For Christians whose complementarian view is biblically-prescribed, these separate roles preclude women from specific functions of ministry within the community.[3][4] Though women may be precluded from certain roles and ministries they are held to be equal in moral value and of equal status. The phrase used to describe this is 'Ontologically equal, Functionally different'.[5]

Complementarians assign primary headship roles to men and support roles to women—based on their interpretation of certain biblical passages. One of the precepts of complementarianism 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.

The main contrasting viewpoints are egalitarianism which maintains positions of authority and responsibility in marriage, religion, business, and elsewhere should be equally available to females as well as males, and 'male chauvinism', a generalized bias that in most situations men are of significantly greater value than women.


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."[6] Proponents of complementarianism generally see the Bible as the infallible word of God.[7]

The complementarian position claims to uphold what has been the most traditional teaching[8] 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”.[9]

While not doctrine by name, 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"[10] 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."[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13] 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.[14]

An example of the complementarian view of marriage can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message (2000),[13] 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."[15]

The expression Sponsa Christi is sometimes used by complementarian denominations such as the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They maintain that the apostle Paul advocated such views in the New Testament. Accordingly, the Christ symbolizes the bridegroom, while the Church (Ecclesia) represents the bride.[16]

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.[15] 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."[17][11] According to complementarianism, women are not completely forbidden from speaking within a church since Paul speaks about women prophesying inside the church.[18]

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; 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).”[15] Most complementarians believe that women should not be ordained as a pastor or as an evangelist, while a few believe that it is acceptable for women to be evangelists but not pastors.[19] This would not support placing women in 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.[11]

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.[20]

Some traditionally Catholic countries have been called matriarchal because of the high value that was placed on women. Numerous women 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".[21]

Complementarian advocates[edit]

Christian denominations[edit]

Christian denominations that support complementarianism include many conservative Protestant denominations (as well as many non-denominational Protestant churches), the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox churches.[22] These groups of churches that support forms of this position specifically include the Southern Baptist Convention,[11] Eastern Orthodox Church,[23] Presbyterian Church in America,[24] Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,[24] Catholic Church,[25] Primitive Methodist Church, 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.

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.[28][29][30] CBMW's current president is Denny Burk[31] 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.[32]

Noted supporters[edit]

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

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.[33]

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 (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."[34] 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.[35] 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". The writer, CBE's President Mimi Haddad, finds that Christians are now divided over patriarchy as they once were over slavery. She characterizes those as different views of the nature, purpose, and value of humanity, all based on gender.[35]

Patriarchal worldview[35]
Knowledge Nature Purpose Ethics
Since patriarchy is part of the biblical narrative, God must not oppose it. Eve sinned by disobeying Adam, showing that the nature of females is not suited for ruling or authority. God’s purpose for females is obedience to males, who are created to lead. Social structures that support patriarchy advance God’s justice, since Scripture, nature, and God’s purposes endorse patriarchy.

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.”[36] 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.[35]

Some Traditional Christians do not accept this premise as it focuses on a sociological over a theological category, thus denouncing the egalitarian position as idolatry. Instead they believe it is not hegemony that causes God's wrath but sinfulness which is no less present among women than men. Further, they would re-emphasize ontological equality and functional difference, not patriarchy, as the foundational difference between complementarian and egalitarian views.

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.[37] Critics of complementarianism have argued that it can be abused to uphold abuse and reduces women's ability to hold male abusers accountable.[38][39] Some have criticized complementarianism as promoting a power imbalance that facilitates abuse.[40] Hannah Paasch, one of the people who started the #ChurchToo hashtag, argues that complementarianism "feeds the rape culture" in American Christianity.[40] Supporters of complementarian ideas counter that good leadership on the part of males, as demanded by the Bible, precludes and forbids abuse.[41] John Piper argues that complementarianism's prescription of protective male leadership helps protect women from sexual abuse.[40]

Other religions[edit]

Differentiation of women's roles on the basis of religious beliefs are not unique to Christianity or Western culture.[42]


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."[43] 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.


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.”[44][non-primary source needed]

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. ^ 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". Retrieved 12 Jul 2010.
  4. ^ Blomberg, Craig; Markley, Jennifer Foutz (1 November 2010). Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Baker Academic. p. 53. ISBN 080103177X.
  5. ^ Piper, John (1991). Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. pp. 31–59. ISBN 9781856840453.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Boa, Kenneth. "All About Eve: Feminism and the Meaning of Equality". Mission for the Third Millennium. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  8. ^ Broken Link Historical/traditional interpretation of women speaking in the church; Commentaries Archived 2011-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Recovering Biblical manhood and womanhood, p. 11, Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b c d The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptist Convention.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-30. Retrieved 2009-01-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ A Christ-Centered Marriage Archived 2012-05-12 at the Wayback Machine Rev. David Shadday
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ God's Design for Marriage Christopher Mitchell, The Lutheran Witness, accessed 2-27-2011
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Boa, Kenneth. "All About Eve: Feminism and the Meaning of Equality". Mission for the Third Millennium. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  19. ^ Clouse, Robert G (1989). Women in Ministry: Four Views. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 0-8308-1284-9.
  20. ^ Mohler, Albert, "Women Preachers, Divorce, and a Gay Bishop–What’s the Link?" August 5, 2003
  21. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2010-01-29. section 1577.
  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. ^ Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Marie Cantlon (2006), Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, Indiana University Press, p. 468.
  29. ^ Pamela Cochran (2005), Evangelical Feminism: a History, NYU Press, p. 160.
  30. ^ Agnieszka Tennant, "Nuptial Agreements," Christianity Today, March 11, 2002.
  31. ^ CBMW web site: [1] Archived 2017-02-03 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2 February 2017.
  32. ^ Sarah Sumner and Phillip E. Johnson (2003), Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership, InterVarsity Press, p. 38.
  33. ^ Allen, Sr. Prudence Allen. 'Man-Woman Complementarity: the Catholic Inspiration.' Logos 9, issue 3 (Summer 2006) [2][permanent dead link]
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2019-04-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  35. ^ a b c d Haddad, Mimi. President's Message: Egalitarians and Complementarians. One Gospel, Two Worldviews. Mutuality, Summer 2014, vol. 21, no. 2. Online: Archived 2015-06-15 at the Wayback Machine, Accessed: 21 Apr 2015
  36. ^ “How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?”
  37. ^ Jensen, Mary; Jankowski, Peter; Sandage, Steven; Cornell, Miriam; Bissonette, Cheryl; Johnson, Andy; Crabtree, Sarah (22 March 2018). "Religious Beliefs and Domestic Violence Myths" (PDF). 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.
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ a b c
  41. ^
  42. ^ Joseph, Suad; Afsaneh Najmabadi (2003). Encyclopedia of women & Islamic cultures. Brill. p. 211. ISBN 90-04-12819-0.
  43. ^ Rights and Priorities - Discrimination? Archived 2012-09-04 at the Wayback Machine—a public address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
  44. ^ Abdu'l-Baha (1982). The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 211. ISBN 0-87743-172-8.

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.
  • Strachan, Owen; Peacock, Gavin The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them. Christian Focus Publications. ISBN 978-1781917640

External links[edit]