Gender Roles (Or Not): Where Do You Fall on the Complementarian-Egalitarian Spectrum?

Adrian Warnock has written an interesting blog post that lays out some of the common positions Christians hold regarding gender roles in the home and in the church. While it is a basic overview that just skims the surface level of each belief, and will doubtlessly leave people in each category wishing he had expained their position more clearly and charitably, I still think it’s a helpful tool, graciously written to boot.

Warnock breaks it down into seven different positions: Patriarchy, Strong Complementarian, Moderate Complementarian, Soft Complementarian, Moderate Egalitarian, Strong Egalitarian, and Extreme Feminism. This is helpful not only because it describe some of the differences between these belief systems, but because many people, in my experience, aren’t even aware that those different belief systems exist. They consider the traditions they grew up with, and the way that they were taught to understand and interpret the Bible, as normative. They may have never been exposed to the fact that committed, Bible-believing Christians hold vastly different views than the ones they grew up with, and that all of them have some scriptural basis!

I hope that Warnock goes back and adds some of the primary passages and interpretations that each camp uses to support their view. I think it would also be helpful to name a few familiar, well-published names of people who hold each position, and perhaps books that support that position as well. John Piper and Wayne Grudem are mentioned in the Moderate Complementarian section, and Gordon Fee is named as an example of a Moderate Egalitarian. But more names and more book titles would be a helpful resource for people who want to get a better understanding of each model.

Hop on over and take a look at Warnock’s post, then come back and chat about it! Do you think his categories are accurately portrayed? What strengths and weaknesses do you see? Where do you fall in the spectrum? Who are some of your favorite Christian writers/teachers, and where do they fit? Do you know where your church and/or denomination falls on this spectrum? And how can we continue to move conversations about faith and gender along in a postive way that builds up the Body of Christ, instead of bickering and biting at people with different views?

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12 Responses to Gender Roles (Or Not): Where Do You Fall on the Complementarian-Egalitarian Spectrum?

  1. Pam Smith September 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Hi Jenny

    I think from looking at Adrian’s blog that he presents various issues as a ‘spectrum’ as an exercise in dialogue.

    However I’m just not convinced that all issues can be reframed as people being at different points in a spectrum of opinion and I think the egalitarian/complementarian debate is one of those issues where there is a clear line.

    I just don’t see that you can be a little bit complementarian or a little bit egalitarian in your opinion.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong September 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      That’s interesting, Pam. To me, it seemed like he was outlining some of the different beliefs people hold about gender, but I did notice that in many cases, those beliefs don’t actually have much bearing on “how complementarian” or “how egalitarian” a person was. More what they thought the Bible said on the topic. Interestingly, I think there’s more diversity of thought among complementarians than there is among egalitarians, unless you split egals into those who take a more liberal or more traditional view of biblical interpretation (which he did, and which is kind of odd, IMO, since that line could be drawn through complementarian camps as well). Maybe it’s easier to be “a little bit complementarian” than “a little bit egalitarian.” Egalitarianism is more of a cut-and-dried issue–egals don’t need to quibble about what women can and can’t do in any given circumstances. :-)

  2. Chrystal September 28, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Took a look at Warnock’s post. Given his own strongly held perspective, I think he’s done an adequate job of portraying the different points along the spectrum of belief regarding gender. The primary weakness I see is that he doesn’t seem to be aware of how condescending his tone is toward those who fall further toward the strong egalitarian end of the spectrum. If his goal was to produce an even handed description of the different positions, I don’t believe he has accomplished that.

    Using his descriptions, I would say I grew up in a moderately complementarian Pentecostal church environment, and a strong complementarian home. Today I identify as a strong egalitarian. Some of my favorite writers and teachers regarding gender would definitely include Rachel Held Evans, Carolyn Custis James, Miroslav Volf, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. In my view they fall all along the spectrum from Soft Complementarian to Strong Egalitarian. Some of my favorite writers and teachers in general include Scott McKnight, Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey and April Westbrook (Old Testament professor at Vanguard University…also my sister). I attend The Meeting House in Toronto, which is part of the Brethren in Christ denomination. The Meeting House is moderately egalitarian from my perspective, with the Brethren in Christ appearing to be slightly less so. I’ve been a part of this congregation for about three years. Prior to that, I was a minister in the Foursquare denomination in the states. Notwithstanding the history of the Foursquare denomination, I would say today that Foursquare is in the Soft Complementarian portion of the spectrum.

    As for moving the conversations along in a positive way, I believe a good starting place is to acknowledge that most people participating are sincere in their desire to interpret correctly Christ’s example to us on how to reflect God’s image. As much as I strongly disagree with John Piper’s interpretation of how the Body of Christ should function, and believe that his interpretation does harm to women in their understanding of how God sees them, I believe that he sincerely wants to be a good interpreter of Christ’s example. One of the reasons I value and respect Rachel Held Evans is because she is willing to continue to engage even some of the most acerbic critics of the egalitarian position with a desire to “reason together.” I’ve been a little weary of the discussion and her writings are helping to re-inflate my hope that a civil discourse is possible. (Whew…..long comment! I guess I still have some passion around this topic.)

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong September 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      Chrystal–I agree with your assessment. He did a good job trying to be even-handed, but clearly has a better understanding of complementarian positions than egalitarian thought. The biggest problem I have with his categories is the way he deliniated moderate and strong egalitarian positions–it gave the impression that the more egalitarian one becomes, the less orthodox one’s view of scripture becomes. Completely mistaken! I am working on a follow-up post that I hope will fill in some of those gaps, explaining some of the (extremely orthodox) principles egalitarians tend to use for understanding and interpreting scripture. I hope it might clarify some things for people who are unfamiliar with egalitarian thought.

      • Chrystal September 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

        I’ll look forward to reading your follow up! Thanks for pointing out how his comments imply that increasingly egalitarian positions somehow require less orthodox interpretation of scripture, or a lesser view of the value of scripture. It’s so easy to paint the position of someone who doesn’t agree with you as not being scriptural. And then we’re right back to assuming that we’re the only ones sincerely trying to follow Christ’s example.

  3. Tim September 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    I agree with you that Warnock’s article would benefit from adding “some of the primary passages and interpretations that each camp uses to support their view.” A lot of what he says seems anecdotal (a debate he witnessed, a church he heard of, etc.). If this were a wikipedia article, there would be a disclaimer at the top saying that supporting cites were needed.

    Still, his chart and discussion are helpful for getting people talking about the subject. I am not sure where he’d put me, but I consider my doctrine to be somewhere within the egal side of things.


    • Jenny Rae Armstrong September 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      Agreed. It’s a good conversation-starter, if only because it begs for more information and clarification! I’ve already started a follow-up post for next week, addressing what I see as his post’s biggest weakness–an understanding of HOW egalitarians tend to understand and interpret the Bible, and why it is not the least bit unorthodox. Hopefully it will be helpful.

      • Tim September 28, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

        Really looking forward to it, Jen!

  4. Lisa October 1, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    As a Catholic, I don’t find the distinctions clear enough in the grid that was provided.
    Regarding church roles, I’d have to say we are “moderate complementarians” because even though only men can be ordained as bishops, priests, and deacons, many of the other positions are often filled by women. In a Catholic parish, a woman can be on the parish council, can even be the head of that council which helps the priest with the most important decisions for the parish. Women can also serve as music ministers, youth ministers, adult education directors, finance committee chairpersons, and everything else that is involved with running a parish on the local level. On the diocese level, which is run by the Bishop’s office, women can also serve in many areas there also.
    But, in the home, most Catholics today view the marriage relationship as moderate or strong egalitarian, with some leaning more soft complementarian. And that would be the same in the workplace too.

  5. Lisa October 1, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Warnock also comments that some complementarians ask why Jesus didn’t choose a woman disciple. Jesus had MANY women disciples, some of whom are named in Luke 8:1-4. Perhaps he meant *apostle* instead of *disciple*.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong October 1, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      I noticed that too–although Paul even mentions one female apostle, named Junia. It occurred to me the other day to wonder whether Paul ever referred to himself as anything that he didn’t also call a woman–I wonder? There were female prophets, deacons, apostles, co-workers–what else? Time for some reasearch and word studies, I think! I heard somewhere that only one person in the Bible was ever referred to as a pastor–the apostle John–but I’m not sure if that is true or not. Again, more research is needed.


  1. So, How DO Egalitarians Interpret the Bible? An Introduction | Jenny Rae Armstrong - October 8, 2012

    […] a week ago, I posted a link to Adrian Warnock’s Complementarian-Egalitarian Spectrum. While I considered it a helpful resource, I wanted to elaborate on the issue of biblical […]

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