“Complementarity” is a word that doesn’t appear in the Bible, but is used by people to summarize a biblical concept. It’s like the word “Trinity.” The Bible never uses the word “Trinity.” But it’s undeniable that it points to a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Though the concept of male-female complementarity is present from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. 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 need for such a label arose in response to the proposition that equality means role-interchangeability (egalitarianism)—a concept that was first forwarded and popularized in Evangelical circles in the 1970s and 80s by “Biblical Feminists.”
I’ve read several posts on the internet lately from people who misunderstand and/or misrepresent the complementarian view. I was at the meeting, 25 years ago, where the word “complementarian” was chosen. So I think I have a good grasp on the word’s definition.
In this post I want to boil it down for you. In emulation of the popular “for Dummies” series of instructional books, I’ll give you a “Complementarianism for Dummies” primer on the intended meaning of the word.
1. It’s complementary . . .NOT complimentary
“Something that completes or makes perfect; either of two parts or things needed to complete the whole; counterparts.”
Complementarians believe that God created male and female as complementary expressions of the image of God—male and female are counterparts in reflecting His glory. Having two sexes expands the view. Though both sexes bear God’s image fully on their own, each does so in a unique and distinct way. Male and female in relationship reflect truths about Jesus that are not reflected by male alone or female alone.
2. June Cleaver is so fifties and so NOT the definition of complementarity
3. A proletariat-bourgeois-type hierarchy has no place in complementarity
4. Complementarity does not condone the patriarchal, societal oppression of women.
5. Complementarians believe that God designed male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.
A complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.If you hear someone tell you that complementarity means you have to get married, have dozens of babies, be a stay-at-home housewife, clean toilets, completely forego a career, chuck your brain, tolerate abuse, watch “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs, bury your gifts, deny your personality, and bobble-head nod “yes” to everything men say, don’t believe her. That’s a straw (wo)man misrepresentation. It’s not complementarianism.
I should know. I’m a complementarian. And I helped coin the term.
© Mary Kassian