Thursday, May 13, 2010

Complementarian, Hierarchicalist, or Traditionalist

John Piper and Wayne Grudem write a preface (1991) for “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.” Here is a telling paragraph:
“A brief note about terms: If one word must be used to describe our position, we prefer the term complementarian, since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences between men and women. We are uncomfortable with the term “traditionalist” because it implies an unwillingness to let Scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior, and we certainly reject the term “hierarchicalist” because it overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion of equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence.”

These are great-sounding words. But do Piper and Grudem live up to them?

First, their so-called equality is limited to salvation and that we are equal in the eyes of God. But they refuse practical equality in the eyes of man. Theirs is equality in name only, not equality that makes any difference in a woman’s earthly life nor that lifts women from the status of “lifetime servants to/slaves of men.” Although they reject the term hierarchiacalist, saying it overemphasizes structured authority, structured authority is exactly what they teach. This authority is so important, that Piper advises wives whose husbands practice “verbal unkindness” toward them, to endure it for a season, and when the husband smacks them one night, to call the pastor in the morning. Talk about minimizing husband-supremist behavior! Most folks would call that traditionalist at the very least, since it winks at selfish and abusive male behavior, and it would not be stretching it to call it hierarchicalist.

Second, although they give lip service to the scriptural command to husbands to love their wives self-sacrificially, that is not what they push. When a wife is mistreated, their first focus is for her to be more submissive. Piper claims to not allow physical abuse, yet tells wives to wait until they are physically abused to report it to a pastor. In other words, he DOES allow physical violence and it is unclear what he will do if a wife calls him in the morning. Will he thoroughly question her about her submission or will he actually hold her husband accountable?

Note that the term “mutual interdependence” is not the same as “mutual submission,” but the context of the paragraph--"equality," "overemphasis on structured authority," and "challenge traditional patterns of behavior"--leads one to believe Piper and Grudem are speaking of mutual submission. Wayne Grudem believes “mutual submission” except for “mutual consideration and deference,” is unscriptural, He says:

“Within marriage an egalitarian view tends toward abolishing differences and advocates “mutual submission,” which often results in the husband acting as a wimp and the wife as a usurper…”
Grudem claims in Chapter 10 of “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” that husbands are never told to submit to their wives, denying that Ephesians 5:21 “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God,” means that the husband is also to submit to his wife. But he claims that “Wives submit to your own husbands” means that husbands have an authority and leadership position, even though the Scriptures never state that husbands are to take authority over their wives, nor command husbands to be leaders of their wives. So even though, husbands are commanded to submit along with everyone else, Grudem denies that this includes a submission to their wives that is equal to the submission of wives to their husbands. Grudem reasons that “Submission acknowledges an authority that is not totally mutual.” Meanwhile, he ignores the “submission” that husbands are called to when they are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it.

Interestingly, Paul Hegstrom, in “Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them,” agrees that the submission of husbands and wives is not mutual, because the submission required of husbands is more demanding than that required of wives. He says:
“Eph. 5:25-28 reminds us that as Christ died for the Church, a man should give his life for his wife. A childish, abusive man will spiritually abuse his wife by telling her that she has to be subjected to her husband in everything. He does not realize that a husband’s mandate is to literally be willing to sacrifice his life for her. Which is the greater submission? The greater submission is for the man. I Pet. 3:5-6 in essence says that the wife should not be terrified, fearful, or full of anxiety in a godly home. The passage as a whole speaks to the man with a mandate of creating a very safe place where she is not terrified or living in fear and anxiety.”

Which are we to believe, those who subtract submission for husbands from scripture and add an authority that is never mentioned or those who point to the scriptures that state that submission and sacrificial love is required of husbands?

And what of “mutual interdependence” that Grudem and Piper believe is so beautiful? Apparently, they think making wives totally dependent on and obedient to their husbands is beautiful, and that husbands depending upon their wives to serve them and do whatever the husbands want is beautiful. And, of course, getting together to make babies when the husband so desires, is beautiful, too.

This arrangement APPEARS beautiful for husbands, but their prayers are being hindered. As Paul Hegstrom points out, when a man rebels against the principles of loving self-sacrifice toward his wife, (IE a greater submission than her submission) “his prayers will be hindered and cut off, and he will not be able to pray effectively (1 Pet. 3:7).” And wives have to LIE to themselves to convince themselves it is beautiful for them, too. Many a wife who has been freed from the grip of complementarianism, admits that although she told others she was happy, she actually was NOT happy.

It is no wonder Grudem, Piper, and the rest of the complementarians are “uncomfortable” with being called “traditionalist” or “hierarchicalist.” Thieves don’t like being called thieves, either, and con-artists reject being called con-artists, too.

But even the choice of “Complementarian” is a lie. As Piper and Grudem say, the word “suggests both equality and beneficial differences between men and women.” The word does indeed suggest those things, but the complementarian doctrine emphasizes neither equality nor beneficial differences. The doctrine is primarily about the authority of men—husbands in particular—and the submission and subjection of women, with special emphasis on wives. The correct term to define those with Grudem’s and Piper’s so-called complementarian doctrine is Hierarchicalist. It is the Egalitarians who practice true Complementarianism.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge," a novel about a wife who discovers traditional marriage advice doesn't always work. See

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