Anthropology (theological)

What is “complementarianism”?

If you hear someone tell you that complementarity means you have to get married, have dozens of babies, be a stay-at-home housewife, clean toilets, completely forego a career, chuck your brain, tolerate abuse, watch Leave It to Beaver reruns, bury your gifts, deny your personality, and bobble-head nod “yes” to everything men say, don’t believe her. That’s a straw (wo)man misrepresentation. It’s not complementarianism.

I should know. I’m a complementarian. And I helped coin the term.

I think that Mary Kassian has done a good job of clarifying the nature/meaning of “complementarianism.” Whether or not you believe that complementarianism represents  the biblical teaching concerning God’s intention for relationships between his male and female image bearers, I think that it is helpful to start discussion with a clear description of what the position affirms (and denies). Kassian lays out her explanation under 5 points:

1. It’s complementary . . . not complimentary

2. June Cleaver is so 1950s and so not the definition of complementarity.

3. A proletariat-bourgeois-type hierarchy has no place in complementarity.

4. Complementarity does not condone the patriarchal, societal oppression of women.

5. Complementarians believe God designs male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.




By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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