The Failure of Complementarian Manhood

Version 2

“There is no togetherness for the gospel when the victim stands alone.”
—James Kessler

The recent 2016 Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, Kentucky put on public display one of the biggest complementarian manhood failures in recent history. Not only did the leaders of this all-male organization refuse to stand by their masculinity manifesto—that “real men” are the protectors of women and children—these men circled the wagons and protected a man.

Despite many protests and appeals, T4G leaders spotlighted CJ Mahaney as a plenary speaker before an audience of 10,000. Mahaney, one of T4G’s founding members, has been living under a cloud ever since he was implicated in lawsuits alleging systemic leadership cover-ups of sexual abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). The lawsuit never made it to court—not because the charges from eleven plaintiffs were dropped or proven invalid, but because the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of children in the state of Maryland ran out.

The scandal implicating Mahaney for knowing and neglecting to act on behalf of sexually abused children within his ministry (there have been convictions and prison sentences) remains an active issue in the judicial system. Mahaney (founder and former president of SGM) denies any knowledge of abuses or participation in cover-ups, although he’s still named in pending court cases. His denials—even if true—don’t change the fact that the abuses and the cover-ups took place under his watch. Besides, denials fall woefully short of the urgent, uncompromising response such a profoundly serious matter demands.

If it wasn’t bad enough for a pastor—still embroiled in an unresolved sexual abuse and cover-up scandal—to be a featured plenary speaker at T4G 2016, the cavalier way Al Mohler, Mahaney’s close friend and one of his prominent male defenders, chose to introduce him went beyond the pale.

Mohler, President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, offered a glowing tribute of his friend. He followed that endorsement by insensitively brushing up dismissively against the sexual abuse/cover-up scandal. He even evoked laughter from a predominantly male audience of 10,000 by saying “I told CJ that in getting ready to introduce him I decided I would Google to see if there was anything on the Internet about him.” He then yielded the podium to Mahaney who preached on the sufferings of Job.

One might think the topic of Job’s innocent suffering provided Mahaney with a perfect opportunity to address the innocent suffering of abuse victims both inside and outside the church and to reach out with remorse and compassion.

Instead, he focused on the suffering of pastors.

In their classic complementarian tome, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, no less than John Piper and Wayne Grudem (the formulators of complementarianism) establish with absolute certainty that the protection of women and children is a non-negotiable criteria for true manhood.

Their illustrations are a bit odd, but their point is unmistakable. They imagine an approaching assailant with a lead pipe or a home intruder that a real man will be first to confront, even if his wife has a black belt in karate.

“Mature masculinity senses a natural, God-given responsibility to step forward and put himself between the assailant and the woman. . . . His inner sense is one of responsibility to protect her because he is a man and she is a woman. . . . Women and children are put into the lifeboats first, not because the men are necessarily better swimmers, but because of a deep sense of honorable fitness. It belongs to masculinity to accept danger to protect women.” (emphasis added)

In his sermon, “Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head” (starting at 40:10), Piper rails with damning words against the hapless overpowered husband who refuses his manly role as protector of his black belt wife, insisting, “She’s following you. . . . You’re dealing with this guy, and when you’re unconscious on the floor, she takes him out. But if you’re not unconscious on the floor, you’re no man!”

Complementarians preach this in sermons, in print, and in doctrinal statements on their websites. But based on what happened at T4G, they don’t practice what they preach.

So does this call to protect apply only to occasional episodes that statistically for most will never happen and not also even more urgently to the epidemic levels of abuse that fester unchecked and untended in the church? Is it okay for men talk in theory about imagined lead pipes and home intruders while making light of the all too real sexual abuses that currently devastate the young and vulnerable in the very churches they pastor?

Do any of them sense the disconnect in this?

From evidence that played out in public, it seems that complementarian convictions go by the wayside when one of their inner circle comes under fire. Instead of protecting women and children and sacrificially enduring harm for their sakes (as they profess in theory) their actions prove that, when it comes to a real crisis, real men protect each other.

Needless to say, the Internet exploded with outraged protests over Mohler’s hurtful words and Mahaney’s prominence—none more fiercely than what came from one of their own—PCA pastor, James Kessler:

“Look no one really wants to hear this, certainly not the 10,000 dutifully nodding through CJ Mahaney’s sermon . . . not the men standing on the stage with CJ, who have chosen an unconscionable loyalty to a friend and encouraged him to take the horns of the pulpit to preach and to rip apart the wounds of so many abused under his watch. . . . No one wants to hear about it, and I suppose that is their luxury because they are not the wounded, they are not the abused who were told to forgive and not to call the police. They are not plagued by nightmares, they are more fully functional if not more fully human. That hardness is their luxury, but it is privilege taxed from the bent backs of the humiliated, it is an arrogance woven from bruised reeds. . . . This is of course, nothing new. This abuse is decades old, but the new thing is the whitewash.”

That whitewash smacks of a whole new layer of cover-up and comes with devastating consequences—especially, but not only, for those who have suffered abuse.

How likely will it be for abuse victims to come forward, tell their stories, and seek help from the church when their ordeal is a matter of levity among the very men who (according to their own standard) should be the first to protect them?

How likely is it that the men who follow T4G’s lead will educate themselves about issues of abuse and avoid the impulse to cover-up?

How likely are they to report alleged offenders to law enforcement and seek professional help in ministering to abuse victims?

How, before a watching world, have T4G leaders cast yet another shadow over Christians who don’t share their views, but who care passionately for those who suffer and are actively engaged in acts of compassion and justice?

T4G’s featuring of Mahaney and their failure to raise an alarm about abuse of any kind has catastrophic consequences in the church. It opens the door for more innocents to suffer abuse and for more cover-ups to occur. It trivializes this unspeakable crisis. Victims are already reluctant to come forward with their stories. That becomes even harder now because the message is clear that the very leaders they might turn to for help won’t believe them or come to their defense. Furthermore, it legitimizes leaders who default to backing their cronies and, as often happens, even the perpetrators.

I do not mourn the fall of complementarian masculinity and I don’t pray for its recovery. It is a fallen brand of masculinity that dangles by the slender thread of a man’s ability to bring home the bacon, fight off a theoretical pipe wielding assailant, and take charge at home and in the church. It punishes and diminishes men who don’t measure up for reasons as commonplace and unavoidable as a job loss, a medical crisis, a divorce, a foreclosure, or simply the realities of old age. For some men, it remains perpetually out of reach. It emasculates men who receive the strength, help, and wisdom God intends for his daughters to give them.

God offers his sons something far more secure that Michael Jordan and the Malestromwill guide them to act differently when one of their brothers comes under suspicion. Surely this recent failure reveals the need for a whole new conversation about God’s calling on his sons.

T4G failed miserably to live up to their own definition of manhood. What is infinitely worse, they missed a golden opportunity to put a gospel brand of manhood on display. That brand of masculinity doesn’t come from shoring up some brotherhood unity to the exclusion of everyone outside their little circle; it won’t protect the powerful and expose the weak; it doesn’t belittle those who have suffered the egregious abuse of power and the violent exploitation of their dignity as God’s image bearers, those who will bear the scars of what they’ve suffered to their graves; it will never stoop to levity that conveys to a crowd of 10,000 mostly men that this is all no big deal.

The manhood that went missing at the T4G 2016 was the manhood Jesus embodies. He shielded the vulnerable, spoke truth to power, opposed abusers and their allies, valued and benefitted from the minds and ministries of women, and rejected the muscular power that the world admires and cherishes. Although Jesus was always a sufferer, his focus was on alleviating the suffering of others. This is the gospel—the call to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves. It reflects the fact that Jesus’ kingdom, according to his own definition, is not of this world.

Ironically, by protecting their friend, T4G leaders are failing to protect anyone. Certainly not any who have suffered sexual abuse (and some of them were present among the 10,000) and certainly not those who will experience abuse in the future. They didn’t even protect themselves, for they drew legitimate criticism and disapproval from many who have benefitted from and supported their ministries. Nor did they really protect Mahaney who the very next day went on to preach a sermon reminding church members of their “biblical mandate to stand by ‘God’s man’” and their responsibility to have “a joyful disposition to trust and protect the pastoral team.”

Complementarian men of all people should be first in line to defend the vulnerable, if they truly believe what they say. If their complementarian ideals don’t drive them to this, then surely the gospel they profess compels them to rethink what it means to be men who follow Jesus in defending the weak, shielding the vulnerable, and speaking up for those who have no voice.

About carolyncustisjames
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67 Responses to The Failure of Complementarian Manhood

  1. Jeff Crippen says:

    Go Carolyn!! Yes, it is long past time for all of us to shout this message you have stated here so clearly. Whatever biblical manhood is, the model that has been dropped on us by these usual suspects is not it. I was taught and embraced complementarian theology (but oddly, was conflicted about it for many years and never practiced it in my own marriage) but as a pastor who has been involved for years now in uncovering domestic abusers hiding in the church, I have rejected that term. I want no part of what it means. If we can know the nature of someone or some teaching by its fruits, then there is more than enough rotten fruit borne by this comp business to dump the whole load as rotten. So what am I? For those who insist on labels, I simply say that I am an Ephesians 5 man married to an Ephesians 5 woman. Thank you again Carolyn for picking up your pen and going after these guys. They all need to pack their bags, go home, get off the stage, and we all need to quit gathering together as their audience.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I do think these episodes are making a lot of people rethink, and I hope it will generate a different discussion about relationships between men and women. I believe the gospel leads us to a better way.

      CJ (not Mahaney)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this excellent summary of the whitewash that was T4G. We follow Christ, not men anyway, but thank you for pointing out that these are not even “men” by their own standards. May they be repentant this side of heaven, for God will judge. Most of all, may the many victims of convicted criminals, and those who were urged not to report sexual abuse by SGM leadership, be encouraged as God’s people surround them with love and care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Melody. Tragically there are more victims/survivors than anyone realizes. And, if the statistics we keep hearing (1 of 4 women; and 1 of 6 men have been sexually abused), they are present in high numbers in every church. So the message conveyed to some, reaches all. This doesn’t ever need to happen. Resources are available to guide ministry leaders.


  3. Sam Powell says:

    Reblogged this on My Only Comfort and commented:
    Food for thought….Some very valid points here. I think we have historically failed miserably in the area we should be the strongest.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Suzanne Burden says:

    Carolyn, I am thankful for your willingness to detail what happened here and to call out that minimizing and covering up abuse is NEVER OK, least of all for someone who is in a key position to lead others and represent Christ. And for the sake of our men and our women, I am also grateful that we are having the conversation about what it means to be a man—not a cultural standard or an unrealistic expectation that doesn’t fit for everyone—but faithfulness, servanthood-that-looks-like Christ, and uplifting the vulnerable.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Don Johnson says:

    Great message, clear and to the point.

    Mat 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.

    Mohler is defiled by his own words. May his tribe continue to decrease.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. They imagine an approaching assailant with a lead pipe or a home intruder that a real man will be first to confront, even if his wife has a black belt in karate. (Emphasis added.)

    See, this is not preaching complementarian manhood as protector of women and children generally. It’s preaching a man’s responsibility to protect his own women and children against other men.

    How the man treats his woman and his children in his own home — or church, where he of course exercises authority as of paternal right — is nobody’s business but his own.

    It doesn’t encompass “protecting the vulnerable” in general.


    • Which of course means that true biblical manhood is only for the few who marry and father children or who are leaders in the church. I do think the teaching leads to that limited range of applicability. Doesn’t exactly line up with Jesus’ teaching re the Good Samaritan, which by the way doesn’t only apply to men.


    • Grammarian says:

      “How the man treats his woman and his children in his own home — or church, where he of course exercises authority as of paternal right — is nobody’s business but his own.”

      Whence this reasoning?

      The standards for Elders, for instance, specify they must manage their own households well, “with all dignity keeping their children submissive”. The strong implication is that no household, and no head of a household, is beyond the scrutiny of the entire congregation; in fact that to enter into a church congregation as a professing Christian implies that he accepts the necessity of such scrutiny.

      As to your delimiting Piper’s hypothetical case; by no means does it serve as careful exposition of any element of NT teaching; and the body of NT teaching on responsible manhood with respect to treatment of the vulnerable and the opposite sex includes but is not by any means limited to, the man’s own household.

      I’m wondering, from which pulpit did you hear, or in what book did you read, or from which Scripture did you elicit the above thesis? (I.e., “nobody’s business but his own”) It’s not right… It’s not even wrong!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin says:

      An example par excellence of this is Doug Wilson’s infamous rape apology. A study in Poland showed that there is a tendency among the pious to be less helpful to those outside their circle.


      • There shouldn’t be a circle. Sometimes we allow too much distance between the pulpit and the pew. And pressure is on pastors not to let on when things are tanking in their own lives, which just perpetuates the problem. Thanks for commenting Kevin.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. GC says:

    This is excellent. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Karen says:

    Yes, yes and yes! Powerfully well-said. Thank you for calling this out and calling it what it is – blatant hypocrisy at best and contributing to abuse at worst. The arrogance continues to amaze me.


  9. Bonnie B. Fearer says:

    Bravo Carolyn! Thank you for articulately calling out what must grieve the heart of God in this situation

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Leah says:

    Let the Church say Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fran says:

    Finally!! You helped to organize my thoughts and confusion over what I could not believe, let alone articulate, was unfolding before my very eyes. Thank you! And may God help us!


  12. jonesmarianne2 says:

    It’s ironic that evangelicals who might point to the failures of the Roman Catholic Church to protect victims of abuse by priests would be guilty of the same thing. It parallels the way dysfunctional families operate–to protect the power structure rather than those abused by it. I am finding it difficult to find words to express my outrage and anger at such failings being defended by those who should be challenging it.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Paisley says:

    Thank you Carolyn!
    I recently watched the movie “Spotlight” about the Catholic church in Boston and this confirms my own thinking that the Protestant church is NOT exempt. My own recent research confirms a high number of Clergy who are Narcissists and may actually have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The lack of empathy, need for control and promoting a “pure image” of the ministry is very much in line with what I have read about this disorder. People with NPD can be abusive sexually, physically and emotionally. For me, clergy with this issue are devastating spiritually to their congregations in that the abuse is covered up and victims are “taught,” often times biblically, to be silent and submit. I’m not a counselor or psychologist, but I do believe it is something we must address alongside the devastating consequences of sexual abuse in the church.
    My prayer is that realizations such as this are the beginning of God’s healing for the church!


    • Spotlight had a huge impact on me too. I couldn’t help thinking about the Protestant church as I watched. This issue you raise, NPD, is a serious one. It’s good that more people are raising it. Thank you for mentioning it here.


      • Paisley says:

        Unfortunately I speak from experience encountering leaders with NPD. I am ordained clergy not currently serving a church, but have witnessed first hand the devastation NPD brings. Sadly many people in congregations believe the leader is wonderful and dynamic, full of the “spirit.” Manipulation and cover up go hand in hand & the congregation has no clue!
        We have much to pray over!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Christy Lambertson says:

        The U.S. conservative evangelical wing of the church has had a number of instances of covering up of child sexual abuse and sexual assault come to light in the past few years. The number of evangelical churches who STILL do not have any child protection policies in place is appalling. While prayer is nice, I’m fairly certain that the only thing that will work with evangelicals is what worked with the Catholic Church – lots and lots of bad publicity and repeatedly getting the crap sued out of them. Of the abuse survivors I know who were abused in a Christian setting, not a single perpetrator ever faced any serious consequences. It might be better now in some circles, but there are still large swaths of evangelicalism that handle sexual abuse allegations exactly like Sovereign Grace did.


  14. jeremyedgar3 says:

    I agree that Mahaney should not be given a platform such as the one he had at T4G. I also hate to see complementarian pastors fail to live up to their own standards. Those are very fair criticisms. Yet it does not negate the biblical roots of complementarianism.


    • Perhaps not. But it does raise serious questions that cannot/must not be dodged. The behavior at the T4G among leaders of complementarianism is a flat denial of what they teach. If anything, this calls for a fresh conversation about what it means to be male and female together and how the gospel transforms our relationships beyond the current debate. The views they espouse aren’t holding up.


      • Jeff Crippen says:

        Yes, some mid to late course corrections must be made. I was trained in and taught a man as head is in authority and the wife is to submit (though my wife and I never really followed that!). But I no longer claim complementarian nor do I want people labeling me as such. I believe Carolyn and others now are coming to a correct interpretation of these things – models that do not emphasize authority and submission but rather a loving, serving two-way relationship. My former collegues will start labeling me a radical feminist egalitarian who no longer believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. But so be it. The “traditional” comp model has crashed and burned and greatly harmed many. It is not of tge Spirit but is of the condemnation of law (without any truth of the Law).


  15. Ken Garrett says:

    Powerful, excellent, spot-on, Carolyn! Cannot thank you enough for your contribution to addressing the T4G’s formal, public betrayal of the victims of sexual abuse. Having come up against this issue, personally and in ministry, I was livid when I read the account of the introduction of CJM.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Andrew says:

    You wrote: “In their classic complementarian tome, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, no less than John Piper and Wayne Grudem (the formulators of complementarianism) establish with absolute certainty that the protection of women and children is a non-negotiable criteria for true manhood.”

    They would say that, wouldn’t they? 🙂

    Complementarianism has nothing to do with men protecting women and children, nothing.

    Complementarianism is simply an attempt by men to preserve their status as the ruling class.

    Everything else is irrelevant, including the protection of women and children.

    Time after time this has been proven. CJ Mahaney sat as emperor over a network of churches ruled by men. Dozens of women and children were badly hurt under his watch. John Piper believes women should endure abuse. Karen Hinkley was disciplined because her husband was a pedophile. There are many more examples…

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Complementarianism is simply an attempt by men to preserve their status as the ruling class.”

      When they articulate their complementarian view, they invest enormous power in women to sustain male leadership by “joyfully submitting, affirming” and making sure that when giving directions to the freeway they do it in a way that wont “offend a man’s sense of masculine leadership.” It makes honest, authentic relationships impossible if we are simply propping up a sense of leadership that is entitled to someone simply because they are male.


  17. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this, Carolyn. Thank you for your courage in calling out the abuses of power, the cronyism of whitewash, and the fundamental injustice and unbiblical basis of complementarian theory.

    I read your first three books while recovering from a Church with such a power structure and “gospel-centered” theology. A church that devalued the messages of women. It never made sense that those who said the roles of women where complementary, where the ones who valued them the least.

    This post was brilliantly written. Articulate and compelling.


  18. Marivi Isaac says:

    Well said! Thank you for giving voice to the true sufferers.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Heidi says:

    I have watched Spotlight four times and would watch it again. I recommend it to everyone. The Protestant church denominations also have similarities. Sexual abuse is no respecter of race, ethnicity, class or gender, or religion. We’re shocked when this happens in churches where one should have an expectation of safety. Predators are everywhere and ingratiate themselves with charm, all the while grooming their
    victims in preparation for the abuse to begin. The children are chosen. It is so shocking people don’t want to believe it lest their idea of the person or institution in question, crumble around them. It’s so heinous we would rather deny the truth than acknowledge it because we might crack if we accepted it. It’s horrifying for us as adults. Multiply these feelings times infinity and we may have a sliver of insight of how a child who has
    been sexually abused feels. It’s the ultimate betrayal. The thought of not being believed should a child have the courage to tell of the abuse, compounds the trauma. Any article that compels people to take notice and confront the issue is
    warranted and needed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As someone who was abused I can wholeheartedly say ‘yes!’ Very well said.


    • I understand the difficulty of seeing someone you love and respect come under suspicion for sexual abuse or cover-up. But situations like this are opportunities for leaders to demonstrate in concrete ways how seriously they take these crimes. Acting like nothing ever happened, or that it is in any way the subject of humor, is unconscionable and a friendship failure too.


      • Susan Larson says:

        I just read this last night – so pertinent here:
        “You cannot have righteousness without truth. . . . . Sometimes the most righteous thing is the facts about evil: facts that need to be named and to which we are called to respond. . . . To turn away or minimize . . . is a failure to live in truth. It is, therefore, unrighteous.” Diane Langberg, Ph.D.
        Thank you Carolyn for speaking the uncomfortable truth.


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  21. marydemuth says:

    Thank you. There have been so many moments I’ve longed to see men from this theological perspective stand up and say NO MORE about sexual abuse. It’s not about reputation (WHO REALLY CARES???? Doesn’t Jesus defend us?). It’s about protecting and validating the victims who are often re-victimized by the church.

    I fear we tell the story of the Good Samaritan smugly, as if we would always stop and help that man on the side of the road. But what if that man is a child who has been victimized by a church member (and that church member is in leadership?). So often our Good Samaritan acts are reserved for the powerful (the abuser) and not the broken ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. So sad! For me (as a seminary professor) it has been a painful revelation that these narcissistic patterns are often reinforced in seminaries rather than challenged. Pedagogy that rewards mere intellectual attainment, one-way communication, hierarchical privilege, verbalization rather than hearing, and defending “the truth” rather than the neighbor tends to attract and reward a certain personality type. TRAGIC! Thanks for highlighting this, Carolyn!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Crippen says:

      Stephen – You have summarized the common atmosphere/culture of so many churches and seminaries perfectly here in these few words. Thank you. In my work as a pastor and as an advocate and author for the victims of domestic violence in the church, I have tried and tried to get seminaries and pastors to listen to us, to read our books written for our ministry (A Cry for Justice), but have received consistent apathetic or even hostile response. In over 30 years as a pastor now I have been the target of numbers of these abusers who hide in our churches parading themselves as eminent saintly pillars. And what I try to tell pastors is “you are going to meet these wolves and it is vital that you learn now what their mentality is, what their tactics are, and who their victims are or you will end up either being their ally or they will destroy your ministry.” But as Carolyn has so clearly said here in this article, the church doesn’t or won’t get it. We keep worshiping these celebrity icons who have covered up evil in the body of Christ and who do not minister with the compassion of Christ to the oppressed lambs of Christ, but instead lay heavy burdens upon them and cause them to stumble. Jesus’ warnings to such people should scare the socks off them. Fire. Eternal fire. Better to do a high dive with an anchor round your neck than to harm His lambs.


    • All the more reason to be reimagining seminary! Thanks Steve.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Jeff Crippen says:

    If such a redesign of seminary happens or is seriously happening at Biblical Theo Seminary, let me know! I would love to be able to recommend such a school.


  24. Well said, this is very encouraging. Thank you!


  25. Maria Tammi says:

    Whoop whoop!


  26. KeyTruths says:

    Thank you for your boldness, Carolyn! Powerful and true! On one point, I would disagree – not with you, but with James Kessler: Tragically, the whitewash isn’t new. Christa Brown has spent years seeking to expose this problem in the Southern Baptist Convention. Her website,, gives an overview of the issue. Her blog,, contains continual updates including two recent posts on the movie “Spotlight” and her most recent, a critique of the proposed SBC “sexual predation” resolution.


    • Thanks for the links. Christa Brown is a courageous voice. You are right–that the whitewash isn’t new. I don’t imagine Kessler meant that exactly, but more that T4G raised whitewash to a whole new level in this latest episode. Prior to this they’ve either ignored the issue entirely or rallied to exonerate Mahoney. Either way, they participate in cover-up. But making light of it all. As I said, “beyond the pale.”

      Liked by 1 person

  27. rfwhite says:

    Hi, Carolyn. Thank you for this. (The link to Dr. Piper’s sermon isn’t working.)


  28. Kathy Keasler says:

    As DTS professors used to say, “Preach it!” Thank you, Carolyn. You are on track!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Carstonio says:

    This isn’t a failure of complementarian manhood. When “real men” protect each other from accusations of abuse, the ideology is doing what it’s designed to do – preserve male authority and privilege. It defines women as vulnerable because it equates women to property.


    • A very sad commentary, but unfortunately the evidence is there.


      • Carstonio says:

        Thanks for your response. Do you mean that the evidence shows complementarianism to be merely a disingenuous rationale for patriarchy? That’s what I’m suggesting. The ideology seeks to protect women only from the “wrong” men.


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  33. Lee says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for a good piece. I’m a little late to the party, but here goes anyway:

    I have no doubt that men and women are created by God to complement one another. Why else would God have created us as male and female rather than as a single undifferentiated being?

    However, I don’t see any sound biblical basis for the way in which these so-called “complementarians” think men and women are differentiated and complementary. In particular, I don’t see any sound biblical basis for the “man protects woman; woman obeys man” idea. Where does the Bible actually say that men are supposed to be women’s protectors? Not that it’s necessarily a bad idea for men to do that when the situation calls for it. I simply don’t see it as something that the Bible mandates as a pattern that we must unfailingly follow in relationships between men and women. t seems to be more of a cultural thing than anything the Bible actually commands.

    Paul is commonly quoted as saying that wives must submit to their husbands. But he simply didn’t say that. In the original Greek, there is no “must” or “should” in Paul’s statements. And the sentence doesn’t end there. He tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. His point is not that wives must submit to their husbands. That was simply assumed in his day, and would not have been read by his audience as anything remarkable. What he was talking about, rather, was the way in which wives were to submit to their husbands. And that way is as they would submit to the Lord.

    But the Lord does not require us to submit in a servile, mindless fashion. He said to his followers:

    You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:14–15)

    As I read these passages in Paul, it seems to me that Paul was attempting to break the pattern in his culture of servile wives fearfully obeying dominant husbands, by saying that instead, given that in that culture men were considered the head of the family, wives were to follow their lead, not with a sense of servility, but from an internal spirit of having Christ within them, and thus from their own sense of self, not by submerging their selfhood underneath that of their husbands.

    In short, there is no command that wives must submit to their husbands here. Rather, there is a call to shift the way in which they do so, given that patriarchy was a near universal fact of life in Paul’s day.

    Take away the patriarchy—as we are finally beginning to do 2,000 years later—and the commandment to serve one another as we serve Christ still stands, even as the patriarchal cultural context in which Paul made his statements falls away, and men and women finally begin to re-achieve the equality in which God originally created us in Genesis 1:26-27.

    If you’ll allow a link, here is an article in which I go into these things in more detail:
    “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

    And once again, thanks for all of your good work in breaking down these old, destructive cultural patterns that so badly need to be left in the past where they belong.


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