Continuing where I left off a few days ago, I want to reflect on the Hierarchical Complementarian (HC) approach to understanding gender roles in church and at home. To recap, the HC position affirms the statement, “Men and women are equal but different,” emphasis on “different.” The HC maintain that each gender complements the other, with men providing leadership roles and women filling supportive roles. I mentioned in my last post that I could go with the idea of women and men are complementary but that the argument breaks down for me when it implies hierarchy. Let me explain further.
As is often the case, the reason that this viewpoint is compelling for so many is because it holds more than just a grain of truth. I think that the vast majority of people agree that men and women are different and that those differences are in some way complementary. It’s practically a staple in the romantic comedy genre. Think, “You complete me.” However, it become problematic when we begin to generalize about the ways in which women and men are different from each other. For example (speaking of chick flicks), my dad and brother like romantic comedies way more than I do. And they are big, tough, power-tool-wielding, hunting-license-bearing Southern good ol’ boys. (More of an anecdote than a fitting example, I suppose.)
Anyway, the trouble (for me) comes with the claim that these differences imply a hierarchy. (If you think about it, this is a big logical leap... but then again, logical argumentation is probably secondary in much of this discussion.) This assumption arises from more than one source. On the one hand, I think the HC have a general concern to be faithful to God’s will even when it’s not popular. The HC believe that this hierarchy is a God-ordained part of creation, and they feel responsible to defend it. They are convinced that egalitarians are too influenced by the surrounding culture, that allowing the power structure to change will throw off the order of creation. The HC are not misogynist; they believe that changing this God-ordained hierarchy will actually be detrimental to women and the relationships between the sexes. In short, maintaining this gender hierarchy is a matter of doing God’s will, and the influence of modern culture is suspect. We can see where these concerns are coming from, and I want to acknowledge that these are valid concerns.
At the same time, this “us-against-the-world” feeling has the potential to blind the HC to how contemporary culture shapes their own position. The feminist movement is fairly young, and portions of Western culture are still reacting to what they perceive to be an upset in social stability. The HC are part of this larger cultural reaction, but they remain largely unaware of it. No one is a-cultural.
At least part of the reason for this unawareness is that the hierarchal view seems to fit better with the patriarchal culture(s) portrayed in the biblical text. The cultures in which these texts were written influenced the experiences and perspective of the author(s) and the original audience. Paradoxically, it is this very “timeliness” of the Bible that make it so “timeless.” Throughout history, the people of God have had to ask themselves, “What is a faithful way for us to structure our lives and relationships in our current situation?” This “in the world but not of the world” dilemma makes the Bible endlessly intriguing, but it also requires discernment on our part to decide how to live in our world in a way that is shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The culture of 1st century Corinth or Ephesus, for example, is no more holy or pleasing to God than is that of 21st century America. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians or to church leaders and family households in Ephesus are culturally sensitive and appropriate to their context, but they may not be as directly or easily applicable to the situation of affluent, long-time Christians living in 21st century Atlanta, Georgia. We might do better to investigate the way Paul allows the good news of Jesus Christ to shape his approach rather than merely asking, “What did Paul say/command?” The “why” is more important than the “what.”
So, I guess, one of the big questions is, “Is male hierarchy God’s intended order for creation for all time?” Both sides have well-developed arguments for this question. I’ll offer mine next time.