Not Equality, But Complementarity

by Emily Cockran             

As Christians, we often create more problems than we solve by arguing for gender equality. Before you craft a rebuttal, here’s a list of what that statement doesn’t mean:

             -that men and women should not have same protections under the law.

            -that women deserve lesser compensation for equal work, experience, rank, and education.

            -that women should not be able to serve or participate in the civil realm.

            -that medicine, technology and business would somehow be where they are today without the contributions of women.

            -that men should treat women with anything less than respect.

            This list could go on for pages upon pages, but hopefully that settles the score for now.

            Back to my original statement: Gender equality has fueled debates, lawsuits and marches on Washington (complete with anatomically questionable costumes). Despite all of the attention it garners, gender equality should not be the goal of Christians. The terms we use in discussing gender issues matter; the word “equality” has certain connotations. Gender “equality” implies that both genders have the same capabilities and goals. Working for gender “equality” means that we work to ignore the differences between male and female in order to create total egalitarianism between the sexes.

            I propose that we stop using the term “equality” with gender issues. Men and women are different, pure and simple. We’re built differently. We look different. We’re hormonally different. Women tend to be more nurturing, while men tend to be more protective. Of course, there are exceptions to these trends, but on the whole, men and women’s differences work together to form a harmonious body. In fact, our anatomical and biological dispositions create a “gender gap” that is anything but prejudiced.


            What I propose we do as a society, then, is fight for gender complementarity. Sure, “complementarity” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “equality,” but, “ If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

            Just as the body consists of complementary components, so too does humanity consist of complementary genders. Just as we would not condemn the left foot for being worse than the right foot, neither should anyone belittle women based upon their gender. Women have and will continue to make incredible contributions to society; men should not mistreat or underestimate women, but, rather, should honor and speak well of them. (Just ask Adam; when he first saw Eve in the perfection of Eden, he tossed all conventional notions of manliness aside and broke out in song!) More recently, though, Paul reminds men in Ephesians 5 that men are not to mistreat women but to love and give of themselves for their betterment. Women are called to submit to male headship in the same way the Church submits to Christ. Men, in turn, are called to sacrifice their wants, their desires, and even their lives for those of their wives as Christ laid Himself down for the Church. (Ladies, this system doesn’t sound half bad.)

            In this time of endless social discussion and debate, the terms we use as Christians are important. Rather than communicating in terms of gender “equality,” I propose that the Christians promote our view of how genders complement one another. Instead of conservative Christians scrambling to explain to angry feminists why male headship doesn’t violate gender equality, I propose that we explain how it does promote complementarity. In a world where our culture forces us to “celebrate our differences,” society insists on ignoring the most fundamental difference among humans. We as the Church can use this inconsistency to our advantage. Constant use of “equality” in discussing the genders puts the Christians in a rhetorically compromised position (from the viewpoint of the feminist left, that is). Promoting complementarity rather than equality can demonstrate that men and women are not “a single member,” as Paul says, but complementary members of a body redeemed by Christ and living together as His Church.

Emily Cockran lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., and teaches philosophy and history for Wittenberg Academy.

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8 Responses to Not Equality, But Complementarity

  1. Beverly Stevens April 5, 2017 at 9:55 pm #

    Beautifully said, and I’m glad it was written by a woman!

  2. Kathy Leach April 6, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    Each individual created by God is uniquely talented. Rigid gender roles hurt society. We should encourage every individual to use their God-given talents, whether or not they are gender conforming to a stereotypical view.

  3. Stef April 6, 2017 at 8:26 am #

    Very nice! Clears up a lot of the confusion going on. Thank you!

  4. April 6, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    I am wondering whether the LCMS considers male headship something that pertains specifically to marriage or whether they view males as the “head” of females in all areas of life. If the latter is the case, what does this mean for women working in outside the home (which is almost all women)?
    Obviously women nurture infants and toddlers by nursing them, and men’s and women’s brains are different; my atheist neuroscience colleague can attest to that. But “nurturing” and “protective” mean different things to different people in different situations, and both men and women usually display both qualities in various ways.
    Speaking from personal experience, every woman I know who teaches in a college or university setting has experienced the problem of having students expect that their female instructors will be easy graders because they are “nurturing,” or that they will spend hours and hours listening to their students’ personal problems. Students do not expect the same of their male instructors. Being a “hard grader” is expected of men. A woman who is a “hard grader” is called names. This is objectively provable in student evaluations and annual activity reports of male vs. male college and university professors. Female professors have to be very careful about how they handle things like absences, tardiness, etc. Males can have policies like locking the door when class begins and not receive negative evaluations. When females do the same, they are accused of being too strict. However, if female professors ignore classroom disturbances and tardiness, they are called “too weak,” while men are called “easygoing.” I am sure that someone reading this will say, “Well, there should be no female college professors.” But we are not in a “power” position; we are serving our students by teaching. Nevertheless, our time, knowledge, and standards should be be given equal respect to those of men. Often, they are not. This is not because there should be no female professors; it is because the world is sinful, and women especially bear the burden of sin’s consequences on earth.

    • Nathan P. Farkas April 15, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

      Dear Dawn,

      Thank you. I appreciate you beginning to illustrate just how short-sighted the ‘complementarian’ view is when applied to the rest of the world. As I raise my son, I have always reinforced the idea that just because he is a boy, there is NOTHING that he can do better than a girl.

      The complementarian view illustrated here by the author fails to understand the end result of such teaching in the home. The males who enter the world raised under these circumstances will have an inherent contempt for female leadership and authority as we see in your examples.

      Furthermore, it becomes detrimental to both the male raised in the complementarian view and the immediate community when confronted with being placed under secular situations of female leadership and authority (work, law enforcement, judicial proceedings, etc…) and likely will result in either a repressed anger toward female authority, open revolt of such authority or even worse, an attempt to repress female achievement in another area of life and contemptuousness of female ability as we continue to see in the patriarchal areas of our society.

      I’m glad to see not everyone in the LCMS is ‘drinking the kool-aid’ on this issue.

    • Rev. Mark R. Meier, Sr. April 17, 2017 at 10:58 am #

      In response to the closing sentence: At least you recognize sin and its burdens. Fair is not always equal but it should be equitable. I don’t want women treated the same as men. It is my goal to be and teach sensitivity and compassion for both sexes with respect to the other.

      • April 27, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

        Rev. Meier,

        Can you explain your words “At least?” Is this a criticism of what I wrote?

        Thank you in advance for your explanation.

  5. April 6, 2017 at 7:09 pm #

    Nicely said! — yes, terms are oh, so important.

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