The Gospel and Complementarians

I’ve come to believe there are some things within a household that require very clear roles. For example, when I wake up early and stumble into the bathroom only to discover a big, nasty cockroach flat on its back, the only appropriate thing to do is back out of the room quietly, go to another bathroom, and leave the carcass for my husband to find and dispose of when he awakes. Or, after arriving home following a late night walk with Pippi, our yellow Labrador retriever, and as we make our way through the front door so do a gecko or two, my job is to get a paper towel while Bryan points Pippi in the right direction so that she can corner the lightning-fast critter holding it long enough for Bryan to grab it with the towel and relocate it outside, all the while I try my hardest not to scream.

These roles are pretty much set in stone and no amount of Bible reading or prayer will change my mind.

I guess you can say I’m a Complementarian at heart. These roles are clearly marked out, written in our DNA so to speak.

But as I’m in my early stages of understanding Complementarianism, I continue to be baffled by the idea that clearly delineated gender roles somehow illustrate the gospel.

My knowledge of the term “gospel” is that it means “good news” and indicates the genre located in the first four books of the Christian New Testament. Frequently misunderstood to be biographies of Jesus, the gospels—the good news—show the reader glimpses of Jesus’ life and teachings: how he hung out with misfits and challenged the status quo. We see Jesus taking on religious and political leaders calling them to account for the ways in which they oppressed the poor and those most likely to be overlooked by society. For the outcasts specifically Jesus’ example of living and his teaching that they were people of worth, children of God, was good news.

And when Jesus invited the crowd thousands strong to trust in the goodness of God and to share what they had with one another so that no one was hungry, well, that was pretty good news too. By helping people—all people—young and old, poor and rich, women and men, children and outcasts, to see that God’s dream is one where everyone has enough to eat, where everyone is cared for, and where everyone is liberated from oppression of every kind, Jesus demonstrated what good news looks like.

So, when Complementarians base their gender-roles on the gospel, I just don’t understand what they mean. This is especially difficult because Complementarians—it seems—generally avoid using the gospels, preferring instead a couple chapters in Genesis, one in Proverbs, followed by a few verses in Ephesians and Titus. Jesus’ life and teachings surprisingly are absent in their claim that gender specific roles are established to reflect the gospel.

Here’s what I mean. Recently I was reading a blog by Wendy called Practical Theology for Women and she was writing to other Complementarians suggesting to them they have a few areas of theology that need careful thought. One of these is the connection they claim between the gospel and familial relationships. She said they need to be clear that husbands and wives need to relate to each other correctly in order to rightly testify to the relationship between Christ and the Church. She also went on to say that they need to be especially intentional to ensure they are not promoting anything other than the gospel, writing, “the gospel plus anything is not the gospel at all.”

To which I’d like to say, “Amen!”

Where in the life and teachings of Jesus is there this impulse to say women and men are designed by God to play certain roles? Women and men followed Jesus, many leaving their families behind in order to do so. We know from archaeological discoveries and New Testament references that many of the people who funded Jesus’ ministry were wealthy women. In Jesus’ interactions with women he never dismisses them as if they are unimportant or the property of their husbands—a counter-cultural move on his part. And, it is with a woman that Jesus has the most in depth theological discussion and to them that he reveals his identity.

If Jesus believed women needed to act in certain prescribed ways because of their gender, why doesn’t he illustrate this?

It is easy to turn the Bible into a tool to buttress a point of view. All you have to do is pick and choose what verses to use and which ones to toss out. It is harder to make such claims, though, if you consider all of Scripture for then you must live with nuance and contradiction, good news and misogyny, inspiration and human construction. In reality, reading the Bible is messy stuff.

But it is precisely in the messy interplay of humanity and divinity that life is lived and where glimpses of good news emerge. And, as some wise person once wrote, “if your interpretation doesn’t result in good news for everyone, you need to try again.”

Well, my journey with Complementarianism appears to be on a rocky start (also because I’ve often wondered why people give a single guy—Paul, writing in Ephesians—so much authority to make claims about how wives and husbands should relate to each other, but that’s fodder for another time). Still, I am more sure than ever that somewhere in the Bible there must be a command that husbands are solely responsible for insect control. I just need to find it.