Voices Break Silence.

Whispering. Roaring. Unwavering.

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Although I’d felt erased from my work, I was ultimately thankful to disconnect from the materials as I no longer ascribe to that expression of a caregiving ministry, nor many of the beliefs inherent to the system. In particular, I reject role theory in complementarianism (comp).

Today I want to veer off a bit and address a different question I hear more specifically from our male audience. The two questions are actually closely related because the answers have a bit of an overlap. Many of my experiences after creating the HH materials are representative of the fruit role theory in comp produces.

After the HH book released, pastors asked, “Do you believe comp leads to abuse?” Initially my answer was, I believe abusers can hide behind the doctrine and use it to their advantage. In fact, that’s typical to the patterns of abuse. Abusers use any doctrine (anyTHING!), good or bad, to perpetuate oppression. However, I’ve discovered this particular doctrine has the building blocks for severity in relationships between men and women baked right in.[1] So, my new answer is, “yes. Comp as it’s currently understood leads to abuse.”

I get in a lot of trouble saying that.

But, what’s the prob, Bob? What’s so questionable with the present-day doctrine? Multiple things imo. I’ll focus on one I think may be primary.

Herman-who?

I mentioned in my last post that sufficiency of Scripture is one of the things seminarians grapple with in their education. That’s not to say we decide whether or not we agree that it is, rather it is to suggest we decide how much weight we ascribe to Scripture compared with that of the church’s authority, or as it relates to tradition. What takes precedence is really the question at hand. Contra to Catholicism, the Reformation returned the church to the primacy of the Word over and above the church and tradition. For those in Reformed churches, this is what we continue to believe today.

So far, so good. Scripture is sufficient, it has the final say for developing ANY doctrine, especially comp. But wait! There’s more.

I promise I won’t bore you like I did last time by talking about a seminary education. But there’s one thing I think is important to know. The idea that Scripture is sufficient, that it is the FINAL authority, does not also mean that the interpreter is sufficient, nor a final authority. ALL Scripture is translated. By humans. Sinful humans. Praise God He has given His Holy Spirit and His Word continues to go out and do what He intended it to do. But humans, nonetheless, are always interpreting His Words.

Interpretation is guided by rules, parameters for when to apply them, and wisdom in discovering not only God’s, but also the original author’s intent. Hermeneutics, the study of interpretation, “concerns the general principles for the proper interpretation of the Bible.”[2] Faithfulness to His Word means careful “exegesis” (another fancy word which can be interchangeably used with hermeneutics). It goes without saying then that, if a group of pastors, theologians, and/or scholars were to develop a doctrine derived from Scripture they would absolutely do their best to respect interpretive rules, right?[3]

Not so with the doctrine of comp.

There are many approaches in interpretation, but I promised not to bore you so I won’t share them all. Let’s just focus on how interpretation of comp developed. In the “big book,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the authors not only tell us that they are specifically responding to the feminism movement in the church, but they also tell the reader how they’re doing it. Grudem writes that one of two concerns that prompted the formation of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was, “The increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain means of Biblical texts.” (emphasis mine)

This is where it gets interesting. Plain meaning refers to a judgment that whatever the text conveys in context is clear from the text. This would indicate that the passages used as foundational to comp doctrine are, at face value, CLEAR about men, women, and their roles and relationships. Any random lay person sitting in a church pew should easily derive meaning simply by reading the text.

But is that true for comp passages? The following supposedly “clearly” define the roles of male authority and female subordination. Let’s see if they do…

1 Corinthians 11:3-16

1 Corinthians 14:33-35

1 Timothy 2:11:15

There’s MUCH in the first passage that makes little sense. Scholars don’t even agree on what these verses mean. Women, created in the image of God—not in the image of men—obviously were created to glorify God. So, the question of a “plain reading” of this passage can already be contested. But, even if the interpretation of that portion was obvious, what exactly is clear about “a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels”? And why, if we are convicted of this plain reading, are women not wearing a head covering today? Where are the lines for these restrictions plainly stated in Scripture? I realize I’m oversimplifying, but doesn’t this prove my point? My professor at RTS said these are some of the most confusing and disputed verses in the Bible. What do comps believe is plainly clear?

The second passage is also confusing. In it, Paul seemingly forbids a woman to speak. I’ve written about this before and demonstrated one practical implication. Perhaps what provides more evidence that this directive is unclear is the inconsistency of application. If 1 Corinthians 14 can be plainly interpreted, why don’t we forbid women from singing? Giving their testimony?[4] Teaching children? And why does Paul affirm women speaking in other verses of Scripture? As with 1 Corinthians 11, scholars continue to debate these passages.

In the third verses, the decisive word for comps is the verb “to authentein.”[5] One of the Reformed principles for interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. What complicates the matter is that this use of authentein is the only occurrence in the entire Bible. Even an investigation into the use of authentein outside of biblical language reveals this word is “notoriously difficult to translate.”[6] The gymnastics implemented to interpret authentein as domination are dizzying.[7]

The fruit you get

To summarize. Comp proponents imply that the foundational passages above plainly articulate female subordination to all men at all times.[8] So, “the battle of the sexes”[9] is a guiding principle predetermined by the Fall and it impacts all male/female interactions.

Domestic abuse is, by far, the most significant way we currently see the resulting negative impact playing out.[10] In fact, that’s another question I’ve often heard from male colleagues. “Why are we seeing so many more cases of domestic abuse?” I won’t minimize the reality that 1 out of every 3 women endure (including women in the church). I will, however, emphasize that the implication of this “plain reading” interpretation of comp theology results in oppression of women more generally as well. More on that in days to come…

Educated

I graduate tomorrow. The nine-year journey to a doctorate tested every molecule of my being. On this side of that journey, I can say the fight to persevere through the process is precisely what was necessary for blinders to be removed from my eyes. For many years, I simply agreed with the doctrines I had been spoon fed. Now that I’ve poured through the Scriptures with a trained eye myself, I can assure you male authority over women is just not there.[11] Not only is it absent, but a plain reading also demonstrates domination of one human being created in the image of God over another as sinful.

Someone I respect recently told me he doesn’t need me making women mad. I get that. Anger seems antithetical to the peace and purity of the church. I hope that creating angry people is not what comes across as my goal in these posts. However, anger as an emotional response to the lies we’ve been taught may be appropriate for some of us. I’m simply choosing to redirect that anger by stewarding my stories to hopefully inform and benefit others. If nine years of seminary produced anything, it was an enhanced passion to use all my gifts to care well for my sisters.

Christ came to set prisoners free (Luke 4:18).[12] I sense He calls each of us to try and do no less.


[1] “The words of the Lord in Genesis 3:16b, as in the case of the battle between sin and Cain, do not determine the victor of the conflict between husband and wife. These words mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. As a result of the fall, man no longer rules easily. He must fight for his headship. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The woman’s desire is to control her husband, to usurp his divinely appointed headship, and he must master her if he can. So the rule of love founded in paradise, is replaced by struggle, tyranny and domination.” Foh, What’s a Woman’s Desire, 382 (emphasis mine).

[2] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/

[3] The largest Southern Baptist Seminary no longer requires hermeneutics in their MDiv program.

[4] How is it ok for Rosaria Butterfield to headline at PCA General Assembly?

[5] This and the following are thoughts derived from Terran Williams, How God Sees Women. However, months before I read William’s book, I successfully defended a DMin dissertation along the same lines with similar topics. At times, he and I wrote precisely the same words.

[6] Ibid., 134.

[7] For the record, I would LOVE to see an effort in evangelicalism to develop complementarianism doctrine from deep & prolonged reflection by a wide range of scholars & theologians from a variety of perspectives and both genders (since “role theory” depends on the agreement of both).

[8] “Second, if complementarianism can be thick or thin, broad or narrow, then my perspective lands on the broad or thick side of the spectrum. I don’t want to be coy about my theological convictions. I believe that by God’s design we are born as men or women, and that this distinction is not first of all about ordination or who can preach but is a distinction that functions in all of life and in all kinds of activity.” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/four-clarifying-i-hope-thoughts-on-the-complementarian-conversation/

[9] See ftnt. 1.

[10] Just as Susan Foh said it would. See ftnt. 1.

[11] In one bizzarro instance during my church’s “investigation” into my professional best practices, a relative of the victim I was helping phoned a mutual friend to warn him regarding his wife’s intent to attend seminary. Apparently, the victim’s relative feared for our mutual friend that his wife might turn out like Ann Maree.

[12] “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”

Share
New Releases
More Voices

It happened again. Only this time, Maggie had barely two hours to get herself and the kids ready. She ran through the house moving quickly from room to room. She...

What Women Wish Church Leaders Knew About Domestic Abuse and the Victims (part 2) By the time I got involved in Lisa’s case, she had left her husband seven times....

Missy slammed her fist on the counter. Tears slid down her cheeks. “What in the world are they thinking?” she yelled out loud. No one else was in the apartment,...

Site Navigation
Need a Book?

Please consider purchasing from our Reading Room. We are pleased to utilize Amazon affiliate links. Every purchase made through these links directly supports Help[H]er.

Looking Forward
  • Swag Shop of branded goodies
  • Festival of Remembrance journal
  • Theology of Story II course
  • Remember Bible Study
  • Documenting resource for counselors