Complementarianism: The Church’s Segregation Problem


Separate but equal.

It was a doctrine enshrined into American law by the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson.

In short, the doctrine “justified and permitted racial segregation” on the grounds that such segregation was constitutional, and therefore legal, so long as services, facilities, public accommodations, housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation of equal quality were offered.

It was perversely eloquent.

In word it affirmed the fundamental equality and worth of all people, regardless of race. But while its defenders were lauding the equality it affirmed, they hid the reality that the doctrine fundamentally marginalized, excluded, and oppressed those supposedly equal people. In practice it was glaringly obvious to all but those who supported what would come to be called Jim Crow, that the practice of keeping people “separate” made “equal” a hollow and meaningless word.

But its defenders were blind to this simple reality.

Fortunately, Jim Crow laws were eventually struck down by Brown v. Board of Education, but the spirit of Jim Crow is alive and well in the church today under a new name – complementarianism.

Like racial segregation, this segregation of the sexes is deceptively eloquent in its ability to disguise marginalization, exclusion, and oppression in the language of equality and the fundamental worth of all people. Under Jim Crow, people of color were claimed to be equal to whites and were simply meant to live separate lives with separate roles in separate spaces in the world. That claim is not unlike how complementarians describe their own separate, but equal doctrine.

“It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different.” – The Gospel Coalition

“Complementarianism is the view that males and females complement each other in their different roles and duties. In the context of Christianity, men are to be leaders in the church and the home, where women are not…Christian complementarianism does not see women as inferior or men as superior. Instead, it sees them as being identical in nature but different in function and role.” – CARM

“Though equal, men and women have complementary and distinct gender roles so that men are to lovingly lead and head their homes like Jesus, and only men can be pastors in the church.” – Mark Driscoll, The Resurgence

While being absolutely equal in personhood and dignity, man and woman are distinct in their roles in the home and church.” – Village Church

The language may be slightly – and only slightly – different, but at its core complementarianism is little more than the church’s sanctified version of Jim Crow.

Like its segregationist forefather, complementarianism is a deceptively eloquent way to keep one group in power (men), while marginalizing another (women) based on an accident of birth (genitals). Where once minorities were “separate, but equal,” now women are “equal, but different.” It’s segregation in the name of Jesus. In the name of the very Christ who shattered the gender divide, women are kept separate from the pulpit, separate from leadership in the church, and separate from leadership in the home.

But doctrinal articulation aside, what is perhaps most telling is how disturbingly similar complementarians’ defense against their critics is to that of racial segregationists. Complementarians dismiss feminists as the ones who assume inferiority and bring it to the table as a misrepresentation of the complementarian position.

“This point is often missed by evangelical feminists. They conclude that a difference in function necessarily involves a difference in essence; i.e., if men are in authority over women, then women must be inferior. The relationship between Christ and the Father shows us that this reasoning is flawed. One can possess a different function and still be equal in essence and worth. Women are equal to men in essence and in being; there is no ontological distinction, and yet they have a different function or role in church and home. Such differences do not logically imply inequality or inferiority, just as Christ’s
subjection to the Father does not imply His inferiority.” - Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg. 120-121

“The great error of many feminists is their assumption that submission equals inferiority and precludes equality.” - Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg. 368

The Supreme Court that enshrined Jim Crow made virtually the same defense in their ruling for Plessy v. Ferguson, blaming the victims of segregation for misrepresenting their position as inferior.

“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” – Justice Henry Billings Brown

Ignoring the fact that complementarians have built their case on the heresy of trinitarian subordinationism, the similarity between their dismissal of criticism and that of the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson is troubling to say the least. But the glaring similarity is not just a coincidence. Rather, it speaks to a shared foundation. Both are participating in a form of victim blaming that is founded on insecurity and the need to deflect guilt to the marginalized. And to accomplish this, both exploit the authority of their office to shame those they want to fall in line and keep them there.

No matter what you call it – Jim Crow or complementarianism – or where it takes place – the church or the state – segregation is still segregation, marginalization is still marginalization, oppression is still oppression.

Now, while Jim Crow laws may have been secular laws, they were sanctified by countless churches and pastors (one of which I’ll look at on Wednesday) on the grounds that segregation of the races was natural law, God’s order for the world supported by evidence from the Bible. Like racial segregation, the complementarian segregation of the sexes is also justified on the grounds of natural law, God’s plan for the order of the world, and, of course, the Bible.

Segregationists cited passages like Genesis 24:1-4 and Ezra 10:10-12 that called on the people of God to “separate themselves from the peoples around you.” Today, complementarians cite passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-23 that speak of how Paul didn’t want women leading, but rather silent and submissive in the church.

In isolation, it’s not hard to see how complemtarianism, like segregation and slavery before it, could be seen by some as an open and shut biblically mandated way of life. After all, in the verses above the Bible seems to plainly affirm both the segregation of race and gender. But to get to that “plain reading” actually takes a lot of work. It begins in simple ways, by ignoring Paul’s own very clear words that “I do not permit a woman to teach,” not that God commands thus. That foundation is built upon by selectively holding up passages as normative, unquestionable prescriptions for life, while other equally “clear” passages like Paul’s prohibitions against braided hair, jewelry, and uncovered hair or Jesus’ calls to sell everything and give it to the poor and to put away the sword are conspicuously dismissed. Finally comes the rejection of the broader narrative of scripture that brings low the powerful, liberates the oppressed, ordains all God’s people as a royal priesthood, and culminates in the resurrection of Jesus after which,

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:28-29

Almost as if he’s just trying to make sure we’re clear that gender doesn’t matter in the kingdom of God, Paul hits us with that extra little bit at the end. Did you catch it? We are all “heirs according to the promise.” In the ancient (and not so ancient) world, men inherited, not women. It was natural law. But a new creation has dawned. The old is gone and the new is here with a new natural law in which everyone is an heir because gender no longer matters since all are one in Christ Jesus.

Complementarians like John Piper may “lament the feminist and egalitarian impulses that minimize God-given differences between men and women and dismantle the order God has designed for the flourishing of our life together” and resist “gender-leveling,” but yet here in the very Bible they claim to be following we find exactly that.

You see, the fundamental problem for complementarians and non-complementarians alike is that far too often we are selective Pharisees in how we apply the Bible. We pretend to be following and presenting the plain teaching of the Bible, but rarely if ever is that the case. Instead, we choose which passages to follow and demand others follow them as well without question, all the while arguing away or ignoring altogether verses that contradict our dogmatic position.

In the case of complementarianism, the presence of women in Jesus’ inner circle is explained away as a supporting cast. The same happens with Paul’s female co-ministers who he repeatedly thanks for their leadership in his letters. Along with the dismissal of female leadership in both Jesus and Paul’s ministry, the gender of the disciples is selectively used to justify the church’s sanctified Jim Crow. We are told that only men can be ministers because Jesus only selected men as his disciples. However, Jesus also only selected Jewish men from the Middle East who were under 40 or so, yet no one uses any of those things as a measure of who is qualified for ministry.

And so, despite the fact that there would be no good news without the women who were at the tomb to later preach it to the men who were cowering in fear, a selective reading of the Bible strips women of their right to preach the very good news they were the first to proclaim.

Whether we admit it or not, we make choices in the biblical passage we hold to be normative or prescriptive for the church and our individual lives. Ideally, this process is guided by the inspiration of the Spirit. But too often our own desires, cultural biases, and personal agendas get in the way. This doesn’t mean the Bible should cease to be a guide.

It absolutely should be our guide.

The question is not should we use the Bible to guide the church and our everyday lives, but how we will use the Bible to guide the church and our everyday lives? Will the Bible light our path to the sort of equality and justice for all incarnated in the life of Jesus? Or will we weaponize it like the Pharisees of old, transforming it into a series of proof texts we can use to marginalize and segregate the less powerful in the name of God?

Now, I have no doubt that there are some women who freely choose the complementarian way of life. As long as that is their free choice, then that is their choice to make. What is not ok is when this way of life is framed as a divinely anointed institution. It is not. Yes, it is an old tradition in the church, but either we believe something changed after the resurrection or we don’t. Either we believe that through Christ we are part of a new creation with a new natural law in which there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female or we don’t.

Either we believe in real, actual, lived out equality for everyone in every facet of life or we don’t.

It’s that simple.

As a church founded on the testimony of women, we should be leading the way for women’s equality, not lagging behind as the beacon for sanctified misogyny. And as a people who hold the cross at the center of our faith, we should be putting the world to shame through our radical empowerment of the powerless, not shaming women who challenge the unholy power structure of patriarchy.

Because when women are segregated into subordinate roles in the church, claims of their equality in the Body of Christ ring absolutely hollow.

When Jim Crow becomes the law of the church, the kingdom of God looks no different than the kingdom of men.

And when neither our sisters nor mothers, nor our daughters or wives are allowed to be our teachers and preachers, our leaders and guides, then “equal, but different” becomes little more than “separate, but equal.”


Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt


  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Great post Zack! I was thinking about why this connection has been hard to make for me, and I think that it has to do with the line between the reasoning and the nature/degree of the segregation in question between the Civil Rights era and the evangelical church of today. The line of reasoning is strikingly similar, even if the results differed by significant degrees.

  • Jennifer Stahl

    Great post! Thank you for sharing this.

  • Tyler Francke

    And like Jim Crow, “Jane Crow” is defended by a twisted ethic that says such policies are for the oppressed’s “own good.”

    • Michelle

      Oh, wow–”Jane Crow”. May I use that? That is great. Brief, to the point, and I’m sure would require explanation to a certain audience. ;-)

      • Michelle

        Oops, or maybe not, since I have now read other comments. Your point stands though, as do the main points of the article.

  • Tom LeGrand

    Excellent points on so many levels, particularly in regard to our shared guilt in “cherry-picking” scriptures to suit the decision that we’ve already made. Although our inherent humanity means that it’s difficult-to-impossible not to do this…

    May I pose the question: Exactly who is the audience for this post? It seems that those who are non-complementarians will enjoy the post and agree with you. Those who are complementarians will dismiss you for ignoring the “obvious” in scripture and in nature. So, who is this helping? Perhaps those who really don’t know about such issues or are struggling with it in their own faith/congregations?

    It is frustrating that so many in that latter category will chose to ignore such a post. The further I go in ministry, the more I realize that some people just want to bounce along and have no interest in really exploring these issues.

    As one who is making some attempt to pastor a congregation (weak tho it seems to be at times), I’m beginning to question more and more the time that is spent in trying to fight these battles. Do we simply have to recognize that these lines are drawn and each “group” has to live within those lines? Or do we have an obligation to keep getting the info out there? How do pastors speak out without coming across as “damaging the Kingdom” by trying to destroy the beliefs/practices of other churches?

    Maybe we just give thanks because we have Zack and Rachel and Scott and Sarah and others who can bring this to light.

  • Eric Fry

    I love it. You hit the nail square on the head, Zack. My opinion is that there are a lot of people defaulting into a complementarian view because it’s easy to allow a superficial reading of the text defend the viewpoint; they don’t have to stick their own necks out or the hard-liners to attack.

    And, even though I don;t like being “Mr. Grammar-and-Syntax Guy”, the 3rd and 4th sentences in the paragraph beginning, “In the case of complementarianism…” need some fixing.

  • Melody Harrison Hanson

    I don’t know who else this post is for, but as a feminist woman in a complimentarian church I thank you for caring and for writing this using your platform appropriately. It’s tiring to always speak up, try to change a church culture especially when the People deciding are a group of men. Why is this important? Why was it important to abolish systems that crushed blacks for so long? Because institutional racism (in and out of the church) was sinful and wrong. Again, thanks.

  • Eric Boersma

    It should not be surprising that a biblical hermeneutic which was designed to affirm the rightness of affluent white men running the world continues to be used to affirm the rightness of affluent white men running the world.

    Sad, yes. Angering, yes. But surprising, no. Thankfully, posts like this keep bending the moral arc just a little more every day.

    • Jeannie E. Hess

      Can I quote you, Eric?

      • Eric Boersma

        Of course. I’d welcome that wholeheartedly. :)

        • Jeannie E. Hess

          Thanks! Copied and pasted…And I will give you the credit. :)

  • Ben Emerson

    I love the point about the disciples being Middle-Eastern Jews and how we don’t use that as criteria. I would argue the New Testament focuses a heckuva lot more on race/ethnicity/culture than it does on Gender. Yet for some reason, white european and american theologians either don’t notice it or intentionally ignore it.

    The cynical side of me wants to say it is because focusing on ethnicity will mean relinquishing a good chunk of their power. For them to hold power, they would have to arrive at a “white power hermeneutic.” Not going to happen, though it has in the past. Focusing on gender allows them to arrive at an unfortunately much more culturally acceptable conclusion: men, like them conveniently enough, ought to be the ones in leadership roles.

    Great post.

  • Nish

    I am so thankful for you, Zack. Thank you for standing for the full equality of women in the church. Thank you for choosing to go to bat for not only women, but for the benefit of the church at large. I know it comes at a cost, so your commitment to equality means so much.

  • Paula
  • Jasdye

    I’m gonna go ahead and disagree, Zach. Not that complementarianism isn’t an injust practice of essentialism-based discrimination, but that Jim Crow was and IS enforced through violent means like lynching.

    Furthermore, when women – and non-women – have had enough with complementarian churches, they can go to an egalitarian church or no church or leave Christianity or search other means much easier than Southern Black people were able to flee Jim Crow. And when they fled Jim Crow, they got introduced to the Northern Ghettos where – in most cases – the vast majority still live under economic and political oppression.

    • ZackHunt

      I hear you, but two thoughts: 1) the point of this post is to demonstrate the similarity in mindset and justification that drives the two, not to claim they are identical.

      2) That said, women have experienced systematic, legally and religiously justified violence for centuries, though it often takes place behind closed doors in the form of spousal abuse. And while you’re right, women haven’t been routinely lynched, thousands of women were thrown on the pyre and burned as “witches” because they offered a similar threat to power as the black community in the American South. Again, that doesn’t make them equal but I don’t think its helpful to dismiss the similarities.

      Finally, I would disagree that women can simply up and leave a complementation church whenever they like. Can some? Sure. But in a framework where only the husband makes that sort of decision – sometimes under the threat of violence, divorce, public shamming, or excommunication – that ability to simply get up and leave is not nearly as easy as you’re implying.

      That said, I genuinely appreciate your feedback even if we disagree.

      • Jasdye

        I made a mistake in implying that white women can just up-and-leave complementarian churches. I know that’s not the case and it was wrong of me to imply that it is an easy thing for any one to do.

        That being said, complementarism is still not Jim Crow. It is still not anti-black racism in a post-colonial world. It is not equitable with lynchings, voter suppression, cross-burnings, or segregated hospitals.

        There are other truly harmful and violent ways that it suppresses and oppresses. But I’d rather we stop flattening them out by saying THAT THING FROM THE PAST = THIS THING RIGHT NOW. Especially if “THAT THING” is still happening while White Christians are still ignoring it. (Think Lynch Laws are dead? Think Stand Your Ground. Think incarceration rates in the US for Black and Brown men)

        • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

          I respect what you’re saying Jasdye, and I realise that Zack is largely addressing the idea of complementarianism
          as a model rather than the abuse or oppression of women, but it must be
          remembered that it is this very model, no matter how benign it may
          seem, that allows this oppression and abuse to go on. Many married soft-complementarians talk of how their marriage is happy and fulfilling, but by insisting that male-headship is God-ordained they are unwittingly helping to perpetuate this oppression and abuse. I never take the position, as some egalitarians do, that if complementarianism works in one person’s marriage then that’s OK for them – each to their own, because I know that if their marriage is held up as a good model for others, there will be plenty of others who see this and use it to abuse their position.

          As a woman who has been abused in two relationships I also don’t think it’s helpful to say that one experience is worse than another, and therefore don’t use the first (possibly worse) one to make a point about another unjust situation. In fact, I think using what is recognised as a seriously bad situation (racial prejudice) to make a point about another seriously bad situation (gender based abuse) does not mean that the two situations are of equal ‘badness’ (we really could not hope to measure such a thing) and therefore the comaparison is not appropriate. No two situations are exactly alike, but there will be similarities that can be useful when wording warnings against unjustness.

          I hope that one oppressed people might be able to support another, even if the other may appear to be the ‘less’ oppressed/abused of the two.

          • Jasdye


            I hear what you’re saying. And we do need to draw attention to domestic and gendered violence – and particularly how Christian churches promote this. However, I believe that some comparisons conflate the issues at hand. Not that one is worse than the other (I’m not attempting to play Oppression Olympics and I apologize if what I said belittled oppression against women), but that both are happening and often run into each and on top of each other.

            Jim Crow didn’t really end in a very real sense, though many of the laws have changed since the sixties. Genderized violence also runs rampant, though many of those laws have also changed in recent decades. But they shouldn’t be treated as the same as they are not the same.

          • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

            Sure, although I didn’t really think Zack was doing that. Such a tragedy that ‘Jim crow didn’t really end in a real sense’. we just never seem to learn.

      • Julie Walsh

        “That said, women have experienced systematic, legally and religiously justified violence for centuries, though it often takes place behind closed doors in the form of spousal abuse.” This is a great point. Can’t you just hear the abusive husband telling his wife “Stop instructing me” because it is a “biblical” concept that women aren’t to teach men?

  • Emily Fridenmaker

    As a young, recent “feminist”-turned-complementarian I want to first commend you on a very thoughtful post and for, ultimately, seeking only to know the true meaning of the Bible.

    Secondly, I want to comment that it totally seems messed up, misogynistic and oppressive on the surface. I was livid anytime I read anything suggesting anything along the lines of submission, or gender roles in the church. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve since experienced the doctrine of complementarianism to be freeing, logical, fruitful, and ultimately good for me individually and for my marriage as a whole. I feel that many of the points I’ve wrestled with individually extrapolate to my view of the church as an organization. I know this isn’t a popular view, and I completely understand why it’s not. It’s not a concept one can be convinced of, or talked into. For me, it was heart regeneration by the Holy Spirit that has turned me towards it.

    I would never try to push this on anyone else, or suggest that it’s 100% the correct reading of the text, but do know that there are some of us out here who have had really positive experiences with complementarianism and who have scripturally-based reasons for believing it. =)

    PS…I do love your blog!

    • ZackHunt

      Former feminist-turned-complementarian?? Now that’s a story I seriously want to hear more about!! :)

      • Emily Fridenmaker

        Well then, I guess it’s your lucky day. I happen to have written a post about it recently. :) Enjoy!

        • ZackHunt

          Awesome! Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing!

        • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

          I read your post with interest Emily. You seem to have grasped the essence of submission, but I fear it is a little short-sighted in application. One sided submission is good (Eph 5:22), but mutual submission is better (Eph 5:21).

          Something else I found was that while you may have been a ‘feminist’ once, you probably weren’t really an ‘egalitarian’. Many of us (me included) often pair the terms together, assuming that egalitarian=feminist and vice-versa. This is clearly not always the case.

          Just going on your blog post it seems that feminism meant/means “voting rights, access to education, the right to own property, and equal pay” to you. To me it means much more: it means equal worth SPIRITUALLY in God’s eyes. That means I am FULLY accountable to Jesus/God. My husband is also fully accountable to Jesus/God. In addition I am no more accountable to my husband than he is to me; we are equally accountable to one another. (ie, mutually submissive). We are heirs of the kingdom together (Gal 3:29) and there is no concept of ‘covering’ or any kind of extra accountability attributable to my husband. Yet how can one believe in one-way submission and/or male headship WITHOUT believing that the wife is somehow MORE accountable to her husband than she is to him? And/or somehow LESS accountable to God? (this is not meant to be rhetorical). And if the wife is accountable to her husband in a way that a husband is not accountable to his wife, then isn’t the wife committing idolatry? I argue that she is – and her husband is abetting the practice. Both are idolators as they are elevating the husband to the position that Christ should rightly hold. Anyone who believes in the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:9) cannot also support a model in which one person is more (or less) accountable to another based on nothing more than the gender they were born into.

          On another point can I ask you this: although some complementarian couples experience loving and fulfilling marriages (this is the case for some of my comp friends) they appear to do so because their marriages are actually egalitarian in practice. All my comp friends with whom I have discussed what their marriage looks like practically, describe what is actually an egalitarian marriage: decisions are largely made together; sometimes decisions are made by one or the other but almost always after discussion with each other or because it was previously agreed that a particular person would make that type of decision (eg. I pay the bills without reference to my husband and this suits him, unless we run out of money then we discuss how to pay them and when to pay them – even in this case however, I mostly make the decision); in the cases where decisions are made that cause friction BOTH partners have admitted to some kind of misunderstanding or wrongdoing in the decision making process. Further to that these same people admit to sometimes being reminded by their husband to pray/go to church/engage in pastoral care/study the Bible, and sometimes they remind their husband to do this. In my egalitarian marriage this is exactly what happens. One is not more responsible to gently remind their partner than the other – we are in it together. We don’t have a case of the ‘last word’ come up because we discuss an issue until we agree, or at least accept, a decision as being best for the family. So my question for you is, ideals aside, HOW exactly is your husband the ‘leader’ or ‘head’? Does he make all the decisions? Is he the one who always says ‘time to leave for church’? If not, can I respectfully suggest that your marriage is complementarian in principle and egalitarian in practice? If this is the case then it’s not really a Complementarian marriage at all. What we DO is so much more defining than what we SAY.

          A last point – I know this is long but these are issues that my comp friends either can’t or don’t want to answer to – there is a huge link between the objectification, oppression and abuse of women and patriarchy. The more patriarchal a society is, the more abuse women (and children) suffer. This filters right down to our own, supposedly enlightened, western society and is evident in cases of domestic abuse, rape culture, objectification of women’s bodies and so forth. In each of these cases it is men who hold the balance of power. A recent video I watched was addressed to men asking them to consider whether they, although they had never abused a woman, were not part of the cycle of abuse because they, by not speaking up, allowed the cycle of abuse to continue:
          In a similar way, are not ‘idealist’ complementarians, regardless of how their own relationships actually play out, also allowing the cycle of abuse to continue, because other people who uphold the same ideal, and perhaps look to these happy comp marriages as evidence for their own case, but for one reason or another abuse the position they are in? In other words, I might be in a wonderfully fulfilling marriage partnership, yet believe that my husband is the head of the house, and someone else who also believes the husband is the head of the house looks to my marriage and says: see, that works, so it must be right, but then abuses their partner BECAUSE THEY CAN. The ideal (male headship) while not directly advocating abuse, does allow it to happen, because the two partners are not really equal in terms of authority, and when you have a situation where partners are not equal in terms of authority abuse will exist in some form or other because one person holds the balance of power over another. That is why business partnerships are called ‘partnerships’ – the partners are equal – they may have made rules to follow for practical reasons, but at the end of the day one is not in ultimate authority over the other. The same has to be true for marriage partners, otherwise they are not really partners at all.
          In this sense, those advocating complementarianism, regardless of how well their own relationships play out, are unwittingly allowing abuse to continue because they do not speak up against the regime (male headship, or patriarchy) that allows an imbalance of power to continue.

          In the same way that Adam’s sin is universal, I do not believe any of us have the right to say “my marriage works well this way” when it upholds a false model to others. This is a case of “good men doing nothing”.

          I hope you will consider these thoughts seriously and respond. I do not mean to accuse you of anything or be judgmental, these are real questions and concerns that I cannot reconcile with the ideal of ‘male headship’.

    • Karen

      Emily, the gentle spirit in the post you link to at your site and in your reply to Zack carries the gentle breeze and quiet whisper of the Spirit of God. Would that I could be so sensitive to what He is trying to teach me. I see a lot of truth in what both Evangelical complementarians and egalitarians are advocating, but ultimately, it seems both miss out on fullness of the Orthodox understanding. I hope you’ll check out the link I provided for Zack above. I left a comment there under Part 1 that expresses some of my thoughts about this, too.

  • Dianna

    Hey Zack,

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do, and I recognize the similarities in mindset, but I think this post has a few problems, a few of which were explained to you on twitter, but I feel bear repeating here. I think the main error that this post makes is positioning Jim Crow and its attendant civil rights struggle as a thing of the past. Your post, however unintentionally, is working from the assumption that segregation was a struggle THEN and now it’s just a nice little analogy for us to use NOW. This sort of (maybe accidental?) post-racial use of the civil rights movement as an analogy is what is offensive to many.

    Reality is, naturally, far more complex – Jim Crow may not be legal anymore, but it’s far from over, as racial segregation in major urban centers, the ongoing effects from the practice of redlining, and subtler forms of racism that are embedded throughout how we discuss politics and what our laws look like (cf. the fight over the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act on the basis that it provided funding and help for Native populations of women). By framing segregation of gender and segregation by race as two different but similar things, it erases the women who fall in that intersection – black women who face misogynoir, for example.

    Because your piece functions from a post-racial view (again, albeit probably on accident, as a function of privilege), the lack of intersectionality actually harms the potential depth of the discussion here. When you discuss what (mostly white) complementarians are saying about genders being separate but equal, you miss an opportunity to discuss how many of these same white complementarians are often engaged in practices which uphold white supremacist ideas – their support of Douglas Wilson, for example. Instead of talking about how the segregation by race/gender is similar, you could have attacked it as “look at how these views are interconnected.”

    The main problem, though, is the seeming appropriation of the oppressions which flow specifically from racist system. As white people, we need to be especially careful with how we use terms like “segregation” and “Jim Crow,” because they are not ours to appropriate. While all oppressions are evil, not all oppressions are the same, and that’s the difference that this piece elides. The lack of intersectional analysis and segregationist framework results in a piece that’s much weaker and more offensive than it ever needed to be.

    Thanks for listening.

    • ZackHunt

      Hey Dianna,

      As always, I appreciate your feedback. I really do. But you’re portraying me as holding a mentality and position I don’t hold and which wasn’t claimed in this post – a post-racial view of the world – and then criticizing the post based on that caricature. Stating the fact that Jim Crow was struck down is nothing more than a statement of historical fact. It neither denies nor changes the reality that racial discrimination still occurs.

      Likewise, as you well know as a blogger, there is a finite limit to what can be addressed in a single blogpost. You are absolutely right that there are intersectional issues at play and they should be addressed, but not mentioning every issue at play in a post doesn’t make the post inherently problematic.

      As I said above, this post is about demonstrating what I see as the similarities between the mindset and justification for racial and gender discrimination, not whether the experience of a white woman in a suburban mega church is equivalent to the experience of a black woman in the Jim Crow South. Of course they’re different. There’s nothing in this post that claims otherwise. But that difference in experience, in my opinion, doesn’t negate the fact that they stem from similar mentality. Which is a comparison – for the sake of women of every race who have been, are, and will be marginalized and abused – I think is worth making.

      Obviously, you are more than free to disagree with that assessment. But please do not mistake my difference in opinion as historical or philosophical ignorance as was done on Twitter.

      Speaking of which, I do want to be clear about that. I ceased to engage in that conversation not because I wasn’t listening but because I was listening and the dismissal out of hand of other people’s opinions/observations/etc. as ignorant and incompetent because of their race and gender is a non-starter for me. I will not engage in a debate where my historical and philosophical observations and opinions are dismissed from the start because I’m a white guy. That sort of thing is nothing more than ideological fascism disguised as intellectual correction.

      I know you won’t agree with my response, but that’s ok. I meant it when I said I appreciate your feedback and I hope you feel likewise.

      • suzannah | the smitten word

        zach, that’s not a fair characterization of the twitter criticism. (fascism, really??) black women told you that segregation and jim crow are not appropriate or racially sensitive metaphors available to use in this analogy. you can make all the historical and philosophical observations you like, but they’d be stronger without the troubling metaphors divorcing gender from race and one oppression from others that intersect it.

      • Alan Hooker

        “I will not engage in a debate where my historical and philosophical observations and opinions are dismissed from the start because I’m a white guy. That sort of thing is nothing more than ideological fascism disguised as intellectual correction.”

        Critique is not the same as dismissal. There is nothing “fascist” (!) about pointing out someone’s privilege — exposing how institutional biases affect the way we think is something to be welcomed, rather than brushed aside ignorantly as “ideological fascism”.

      • Dianna

        “Ideological fascism” is a bit much. Have a good day.

      • Jasdye

        Hey Zach,

        Listen, I’m a white guy. Trust me, your observations and opinions aren’t dismissed out of hand because of your whiteness. In fact, it’s quite literally the opposite most of the time. But your whiteness plays a part in your perception, in shaping how you view and how you share your observations and opinions.

        We’re gonna have to recognize our privilege makes us less able to receive very necessary and right criticism – especially when we’re coopting someone else’s history and they speak up and say “No. This is not that.”

  • Kelley Danahy

    I really appreciate this post. Out of curiosity, since it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, how do you (as an egalitarian) interpret Paul’s statement that “man is the glory of God, but woman is the glory of man?” (It’s something I’ve never heard a good explanation for, and as a feminist I find this troubling).

    • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

      Kelley, I think you might be able to find something of this in “I commend you to our sister” by David Joel Hamilton, specifically page 184: “Paul’s use of the coordinative d˜ suggests that he has employed ellipsis. The sense is not “but.” It is “and” — the women, like the man, “is the image and glory of God” and, in addition, she is also “the glory of man,” “she is his ‘glory’ (or ‘reputation,’ ‘honor,’ ‘splendor’).”801 What is Paul’s point? Even as Adam “gloried in” Eve’s creation, breaking into song when he saw her, recognizing how fully like him she was, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh (Gen 2:23), so too the men in Corinth could — and should — “glory in” the women who ministered in their midst. Women were not to be seen as dishonorable inferiors to be either used or avoided. They were to be seen as valuable, indeed glorious, peers and be treated respectfully as full partners in ministry.” Reading the whole chapter would be beneficial to understanding this. You can get this article in PDF form if you google it. I have not been able to find it in book form to purchase, but Hamilton did co-write a book with Loren Cunningham called “Why not women? A biblical study of women in missions ministry and leadership”.

      • Kelley Danahy

        Ahhh that makes sense. I will now place this book on my reading list. Thank you so much!

        • Jeannie E. Hess

          I agree with fluffybunnyrabbit’s post 100% so I cannot add anything but one small item. The infant Jesus was also called “the glory of Israel” by Simeon in Luke’s gospel. Just a thought… :)

          • K. Elizabeth Danahy

            I like that idea. :)

  • Tim

    This quote right here:
    ““This point is often missed by evangelical feminists. They conclude that a difference in function necessarily involves a difference in essence; i.e., if men are in authority over women, then women must be inferior. The relationship between Christ and the Father shows us that this reasoning is flawed. One can possess a different function and still be equal in essence and worth. Women are equal to men in essence and in being; there is no ontological distinction, and yet they have a different function or role in church and home. Such differences do not logically imply inequality or inferiority, just as Christ’ssubjection to the Father does not imply His inferiority.” – Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg. 120-121″

    Also brilliantly illustrates one of my issues with the logical sequelae of trinitarian theology. The typical formulation leads to conclusions such as articulated in the last sentence of the above quote. But ironically, Jesus says more than once that “The Father is greater than I”, which clearly means that even he understood himself to be inferior to the Father, which helps give the lie to the line of thought expressed in the above quote.
    Now don’t misunderstand; I’m not implying that women are inferior to men. I’m saying that the line of reasoning by which that idea is justified in the quote above is faulty, and I’m tying that to flaws in the trinitarian model.

    • Karen

      Except, John 14:28 needs to be interpreted in light of Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-19. There is no inferiority or subordination in the Trinity implied in the fact the second Person of the Trinity condescended to become incarnate as a human being and, in the limitations of his human Incarnation was for a time “lesser” than His Father.

      • Tim

        Thats certainly how it has been read historically, but I think there are serious problems with that. I dont want to drag things too far off topic though. So I’ll leave it at that.

        • Karen

          I appreciate the courtesy of that call, and in any case I’m EO, and for us this is an issue that has been settled for centuries.

          • Tim

            And to be clear, it’s mostly the modern formulation that I’ve specifically taken issue with. You are in an older tradition than the one I come from, and there may well be earlier, purer forms for which there may be excellent arguments that I simply haven’t heard yet.

  • Brad Sydow

    Well written. However, realize that we Eastern Orthodox hold church tradition in a complementary authority with scripture. Thus our priesthood is male and their wives are honored with a different role in the church, sometimes called “matuschka” or “kouria”. And our saints plastered all over our walls seem like a total validation of the role of women as equal in the church. This is hard for many of us since in many congregations over half are Protestant converts! Thanks for the discussion!

  • Nick Seipel

    You are obviously a smart cookie, I can tell that by your content and how you wrote it. I really appreciate thoughtful people. That is why I know you can appreciate the following, “Why bring up Galatians 3:28-29 in an attempt to aid you in a complementation / egalitarian conversation?” It’s a salvation context, is it not? Are gender roles on the author’s mind?

  • Lynne Stringer

    I find it interesting that they can consider woman equal in a mindset where men have the freedom to do and become anything they want, but women must be bound to the home. This seems more than just different, but in fact, very unequal. Perhaps they would hold to the view expressed in Animal Farm that everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

    • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

      ‘Animal Farm’ has long formed part of my own objections to Complementariansm.

  • Lindi Wells Martsolf

    As a woman in ministry (a ministry in which I have been given full ministerial authority as opposed to being limited to leading only women and/or children), I felt incredibly encouraged and empowered reading your post. I would, however, like to contend that men and women are different (even if those differences are purely anatomical) and those differences should be embraced and celebrated, or at least recognized and appreciated.

    Just as it would be detrimental to be “color blind” in regards to racial issues, I think we need to caution against being “gender blind”. Women have an immense amount to offer in ministerial leadership roles, including a unique perspective that has often been overshadowed by the predominance of male leaders.

    The danger, as you alluded to, is when we place limits on power and authority based on real or perceived differences. We also commit injustice when we restrict opportunities for others based on their gender (I have yet to visit a church that does not have primarily male ushers or primarily female children’s workers). We also need to be careful to avoid using inflexible definitions in highlighting gender differences, as this can often lead to pigeon-holing or stereotyping. There are many reasons why I am a unique minister with special gifts and skills; being a woman is one of those reasons, but it’s not the entirety of my identity. I think true equality comes when we give equal power and opportunity regardless of gender (“in Christ there is no male or female”) and at the same time celebrate the distinctiveness of the “other” (“male and female he created them”).

    Thank you for your post. This is a voice that needs to be heard in the Church. Thank you for using your power and influence to advocate for women in ministry.

  • Brannon Hancock

    “Ignoring the fact that complementarians have built their case on the heresy of trinitarian subordinationism…” – this is a bit difficult to ignore, however!

  • Elizabeth

    I thought this was excellent and well-reasoned. Kudos to you for responding gently to those who accused you of thinking that racial segregation is entirely in the past. A white male writing about gender and race hardly stands a chance…someone, somewhere isn’t going to like the way you worded something! Thank you for this brave post.

  • lmalone

    “I will not engage in a debate where my historical and philosophical observations and opinions are dismissed from the start because I’m a white guy. That sort of thing is nothing more than ideological fascism disguised as intellectual correction.”

    You are right. And I am very glad you had the nerve to say it. It is becoming actually worse out there and it concerns me. I was raised that there is only one race and that Jesus Christ would have us treat all with dignity and respect. However, in many places around the internet I am automatically guilty of racism because I am white and view all as individuals of the same race. I was raised that way. My first SS teacher was black when I was 6!

    What concerns me is that electing a black president twice does not seem to be moving us along or count for anything in many circles. Why is that? Isn’t that some sort of affirmation that we have moved on even if some racist pigs still exist out there?

    Some seem to want some sort of censorship law that forces people to act and say the things they approve of. There is a sort of censorship of shaming going on out there. And it does not change hearts. It also means the issues cannot be discussed in any profitable way at all, either.

    That is Orwellian. And that is where we are.

    • Jasdye

      You want a cookie because America voted for the smart black guy?

  • lmalone

    “Why bring up Galatians 3:28-29 in an attempt to aid you in a complementation / egalitarian conversation?” It’s a salvation context, is it not? Are gender roles on the author’s mind?”
    Keep reading. It is talking about Inheritance. That is what “Sonship” is if you understand Hebrew thinking of the day. The passage is not just about salvation but full kingdom living here and now in the Body of Christ. So thinking about full inheritance includes all spiritual gifts and being greek/jew, slave/free or male/female has no bearing on the full inheritance. So the author was throwing out slave “roles”, gender roles, etc FOR the Body of Christ. I hate the word “roles” but use it because you did to communicate.

    • Michelle

      I absolutely agree, and don’t understand how so many people miss that it’s about the here and now as well as about the hereafter. It’s not intangible, theoretical.

  • KDunc

    Great post! Thank you for articulating this so well

  • Hannah

    I likened the recent Arizona law hullaballoo to Jim Crow quite a bit myself recently, and a lot of people brought up -nicely – that this was not a fair comparison and helped teach me the severity of Jim Crow vs a lot of discrimination that gay people ro women or Christians have experienced and it was a real learning experience for me. I realized I was out of line drawing such an equivalency between Jim Crow and things like the bakery discrimination case, etc. It’s still discrimination, but I understand now what the severity of Jim Crow, which was something in my suburban, white girl, middle class life I wasn’t really aware of, nor had experienced. So now, I have to agree with the other comments saying that using Jim Crow in this article as a comparison for the kind of discrimination perpetrated by complementarianism is not a good comparison. I can see the similarities, in intention perhaps, not in practice, but I don’t think complementarianism nearly reaches the level of Jim Crow. I’ve experienced a lot of complementarianism in the church and whatnot, but I have never felt “afraid” because of it or “threatened” by it. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t disagree with it and be safe and allowed to do so. I’m not saying there aren’t women or even men who have felt afraid of or threatened by complementarianism, but I haven’t experienced that.
    You know how it’s become almost “illegal” in debate to compare stuff to Hitler or the Nazis? I think Jim Crow is becoming that. I’ve heard it used in comparison to a lot of stuff lately, but I think it’s reaching a breaking point after which people aren’t going to be ok with it anymore. I mean, it’s kinda interesting what gets “picked” as “can’t use this as a comparison” because someone could compare things to other wars or genocides or whatnot and nobody will bat an eye, but oh well. It’s probably best to be careful before comparing stuff to any horrible event, as a general rule. And probably understand that whatever we say, someone will have a bone to pick about it.
    Either way, I agree with you about being told you can’t make an opinion on something just because you’re a white male. There are things you may not be able to understand as well as someone of a different gender or ethnicity, etc, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to have an opinion about it. That sort of tactic is just a shut-down debate bullying tactic. You can have an opinion because you’re human, with a heart and mind.

  • Nancy Le

    have mercy that was good; thank you!!!

  • Karen

    From earliest times, Christians have believed (following the Scriptures’ teaching) God designed the differences in the sexes to manifest something of the nature of the relationships within the Trinity and of the mystery of God’s union with humanity through Christ in His Church. Are men oppressed because they cannot bear children? Are women oppressed because they can? Feminists have argued women are oppressed because they can get pregnant and declared birth control their liberation from oppression, but I would hope Christian women can see a problem with that. The truth is mutual exclusion from some functions because of created design/purpose is intrinsically neither subordination, nor oppression.

    You are quite right that the orthodox teaching is that there is no SUBordination in the Trinity (all Persons share the exact same eternal Divine Nature), but at the same time there is revealed in Scripture to be an order that expresses the relationships between the Persons of the Trinity (Who are distinct), and these relationships are neither reciprocal nor interchangeable. The Father “begets” the Son, and not the reverse, the Spirit “proceeds from” the Father, and not the reverse, and not from the Father and the Son, etc.

    Mutually exclusive functions of men and women in marriage and in the Church reflects a created difference that images this Trinitarian order and the relationship of Christ to His Church, and this is pretty foundational to a genuinely orthodox Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, so I can’t be part of the amen crowd this time. A proper biblical complementarianism does not intrinsically lead to oppression (though carnal interpretations and misapplications of Scriptures’ clear complementarian teaching can). There are some popular caricatures out there both in interpretation and application, so I’m sympathetic with rejection of those, but modern egalitarianism is just bad exegesis. More here:

    • Jeannie E. Hess

      If human beings are created in G-d’s image, than we are created in the entire image. Women are not merely created in the Son’s image or men the Father’s image. Every human being is created in the image of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Complementarianism is heresy.

  • Rebecca Erwin

    Life affirming. My soul is full and my words are lost. Healing love calls to me from a lifetime of marginalization.

  • Julie Walsh

    Thanks for this post, Zack. We women have a difficult time reaching the men that need to be reached on this issue, such as Piper and Driscoll or their audience, as you mention. Why? wait for it…because women shouldn’t be teaching men!! So I, as a woman, on this issue can only preach to the choir or the undecided. Therefore, thanks again.