Christianity,  Theology/Bible

The Accidental Complementarian

I really appreciate this testimonial from Jen Pollock Michel, who calls herself “The Accidental Complementarian.” Writing for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, she writes:

Misunderstandings about complementarians abound. At a recent women’s conference, I heard a speaker describe her egalitarian upbringing, saying it wasn’t until college that she recognized the breadth of theological difference on this issue.

“I was shocked. And to be honest, I was heartbroken. It had never occurred to me that in this day and age, so many people just like me were being sidelined,” she said. Her implication? Complementarianism was theology that should have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Like me, the closet complementarians in the room may have sensed the muting of their voices in a circle designed to celebrate them…

Being a complementarian woman in an egalitarian world is wildly unpopular; it can also be perceived as decidedly ignorant. Some readers may sympathize with my hope for reprieve. And while the word has fallen out of favor with some, I know no other way to decide the contentions of my own heart than biblically. That verse [1 Cor. 11:3] continues to hold me in its grasp…

But if disagreeing with Paul is the leap I must make to egalitarian theology, I remain reluctantly caught, even in this day and age.

Hear, hear. As always, this is an issue that comes down to biblical authority. Read the rest of this thoughtful article here.


  • Kathryn Elliott Stegall

    It is possible to be egalitarian and also committed to the authority of the Bible. We must stop accusing each other of not being committed to the authority of the Bible and recognize that there are many on both sides of this issue who are fully and completely committed to the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.

  • Rick Wilson

    It’s an interesting point, Kathryn, because as assuredly as you think it is possible to be egalitarian and committed to the authority of the Bible, I think it is not. So, should I just deny what I think in order to get along? To me the issue IS the authority of Scripture, and I don’t know how else to address an egalitarian. I don’t think we just agree to see things differently, I think I am being faithful to the text and they are not. To frame the issue any other way would be disingenuous of me. And I would hope that those who thought I was holding a position that was ignoring the plain meaning of Scripture would say so to me.

    Now, a few things need to be said. I am quite sure there are areas of blindness where I am being unfaithful to the text. I thing that is true of every person due to our sin. So I don’t mean that to be as awful as an accusation as it might sound to those without a thorough view of human sinfulness.

    But this is tricky, because the complementarian thinks the egalitarian is denying what is clear in Scripture in order to get along in culture, which would make them thus not so committed to the authority of the Bible. But the egalitarian thinks the complementarian simply has a bad hermeneutic. The accusations aren’t the same both ways. I think complementarianism is so clear in Scritpure that no, I am not going to give the egalitarian the benefit of the doubt in terms of their motives. I think the motive of nearly all egalitarians is to get along in culture, not a genuine difference of opinion on the Scripture.

    I know I’m going to be accused of not being charitable, but I don’t know what else to say, there it is.

  • Chris Ryan

    I actually do think the accusations are the same both ways; they’re equally serious charges. That’s because I know precious few who take the rest of that chapter–men must not cover their head while praying; but women must cover their head while praying–as seriously as they take verse 2. In all my days I’ve never seen a church mother thrown out for praying without a hat. When I see folks following that advice, too, then we’ll know they mean business. I’m a literalist and yet its hard to read Paul in these verses as doing anything other than using the clothing styles of the day to comment on good discipleship.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    The Reformers, the men, that is, wore long hair and sometimes hats when they preached because of the cold.

    “I think the motive of nearly all egalitarians is to get along in culture, not a genuine difference of opinion on the Scripture.”

    How do you know what their motive is? I was raised to study Greek in high school, and walked to school for 8:00 to study Greek with two other students before the regular school day had begun. I did this for several years. I studied Greek at university, both classical and Hellenistic. I don’t think anyone every accused me of trying to “get along in culture.”Far from it! I had watched little TV, seen few movies, did not know one popular song writer, could sew all my own clothes, and read and knit for hobbies. Getting along in culture? Not me.

    But the clear reading of the Greek is that Phoebe was a deacon, Junia an apostle, many women were prophets and wise women, judges, etc. The clear reading of the Greek is that authenteo means to dominate or usurp authority. The clear meaning of the Hebrew is that God created humans as equals. God never chose the oldest to be the leader. He always picked a younger son, and in some cases a woman.

    I have studied Bible translations from the LXX to the Anglo Saxon gospels, to the Latin Bibles of the Reformation, and I find many current Bibles today have simply lost their way. Of course, the peacemakers shall be called the ‘children of God.” Why does Israel have “children” and God has only “sons?” what kind of translation is that? It is not as if any church leader I have ever met treated a woman like a son of God. Present day translation and interpretation has wandered off a long way from the traditional.

    It took me a long time to give up complementarianism, but eventually I could no longer find the complementarianism taught today anywhere in the Bible. I interviewed theologians about these problems and did not get very satisfactory answers. No, I had no choice but to leave. But that does not mean that I somehow have started conforming to culture. I just don’t have the knack for that.


    You are not being uncharitable. You speak very calmly but I have been both, and know about motives. You don’t know my motives nor do you know how I do or do not conform to culture.

  • Don Johnson

    Motives of people can be hard to discern. All of us are sinners and can deceive ourselves.

    I think egalitarianism is plainly taught in Scripture when it is read in context, and I might suspect the motive of someone who claims power over another adult based on their interpretation; doing this has a bad track record as most of us no longer believe in the supposed divine right of kings or the supposed right to own slaves, for their own good, of course. The point is the idea of bad motives shaping one’s understanding goes for both groups, so my take is neither group should ascribe bad motives to the other, as this involves seeing into another’s heart, which mere humans cannot do.

    The comp/egal debate is an exegetical question and it should be discussed as an exegetical question, what does Scripture teach?

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