Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Complementarian Equality

Complementarians claim that they do believe in equality of the genders, but that men and women have different roles. However, their behavior says they do NOT think men and women are of equal value. Complementarian Phyllis Schlaffly is a lawyer who works with father supremest groups to repeal WAVA, the Women Against Violence Act, which allows women to obtain a restraining order to protect themselves from their abuser. Apparently, Phyllis thinks the right of men to maintain authority over their wives through threats, verbal assault and physical punishment ought to be protected, even though their wives are afraid for their lives and frequently the wives who are afraid of their husbands do end up severely battered or even murdered by their husbands. Schlaffly claims it is unconstitutional to inflict a restraining order on a man without finding him guilty in a court of law.

On the other side, people like Bruce Ware suggest husbands would not beat their wives if wives submitted. The first thing pastors tell wives who complain of being abused by their husbands, is to go home and submit to their husbands. In other words, Ware and friends prejudge wives as guilty without a trial.

When couples go to pastors for counseling, pastors tend to focus on wife submission. Only after they have been working with the couple for 6-12 months or more, and see that the wife is actually submissive and docile, do they even begin to suspect the husband may be at fault. By that time, they have helped produce such an extreme imbalance in the marriage, it is frequently beyond saving because their intervention has taught the husband that he is lord, king, master, and god of his wife, and the husband is unwilling to relinquish his entitlement and privilege.

So on the one hand, complementarians refuse to believe a man is guilty of abusing his wife until the truth is so obvious they can no longer deny it. On the other hand, they refuse to believe the wife is NOT guilty of insubordination and insist she must be at fault, until the truth is so obvious they can no longer deny it.

Just how is this presupposition equality? Clearly complementarians believe men are more righteous, more believable, more right than their wives, and their behavior is more justifiable. Complementarians also believe wives are liars, untrustworthy, selfish, unrighteous, unscrupulous, rebellious, God haters, men haters, & etc., and their behavior is NOT justifiable. And these beliefs continue in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I repeat: how can they claim their teaching/belief is equality of the genders? Doesn't this show a belief in male superiority and female inferiority? In fact, this shows they do NOT deal with men and women, husbands and wives, with anything remotely resembling equality. It is NOT just about differing roles. It IS about inequality and about MAINTAINING that inequality.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See www.wanetadawn.com A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.


  1. I have a daughter recently divorced with 4 boys who endured 15 years of abuse from a man she wanted to love and help. Unfortumately, he was drawn like a moth to a flame back to his upbringing without love or care from emotionally sick parents. He was mentally and verbally so abusive that she hid it from us, her parents. She was convinced she could handle the situation and help him----NO!

    When he got out of the Coast Guard and into technician work with a large company installing and maintaining sophisticated medical diagnostic equpment, he began to smoke the weed and use stronger substances to quell his inner demons. She caught him and got a thousand promises of change---none of which he seriously did. Finally she invited him out---thank God.

    Were she to go to a minister who advised her to go home and submit, she could well be dead now! She told us after ordering him out of a time he grabbed her by the hair in front of the boys and held a butcher knife to her throat. His words were along the lines that "I could kill your mother right now if I wanted!"

    Were she to come to me (thank God I didn't know the half of what was going on until she had decided to rid herself of him) as her minister, I cannot conceive of advising her to "stay and submit." My advice to women like her wanting to keep the marriage and improve it with promises from the man to change was:

    How many years have you suffered at his hands? Then tell him to show you the same number of years of changed bahaviour and only then will you continue the discussion! Not one day less or more---show me the change!

  2. Gene,
    I should have clarified I was talking of complementarian pastors--and it seems most pastors are complementarian. Even pastors who teach that women can be leaders in church often refuse to help a wife who is being abused. So sad.

    The story of your daughter is so sad, too. But thankfully she did get out alive, and she did not go to some pastor who told her she had to stay with him.

    Sadly, another segment of churches who claim to have no tolerance for domestic abuse/violence, turns on the wife if the husband puts on a show of repentance. They pressure her to forgive and forget, and do not have a clue that his show of repentance is just a show, and that his wife has seen the same show many times in the past and has finally accepted that it has the appearance of sincerity, but his promises are not kept.

    Your last para sounds so harsh, yet that is the way the church needs to see abuse. Abusers expect people to wipe the slate clean, trust them fully, without ever doing anything to deserve or earn that trust, and too many churches agree with them. And so the cycle continues...

  3. Waneta--

    My practical counsel to women is based on reality that few people are able to make instant changes from abuse to love. It is ingrained so deeply they, like my ex-SIL, who has no experience with real love and chose to reject that of my daughter who thought she could help him find joy.

    Her 4 boys go to their dad's every other weekend. There they get criticized / listen to bad thing said about their mother and us / get called names like "long-haired criminal" / dummy /---anything which can demean and intimidate.

    After more than a year of this, they are saying they don't want to go and get nauseous as the dad weekend approaches. Sara has now made up her mind that if they don't want to go, she will not force them. I think this is wise.

    They are recovering along with her, but just last night a mention of dad's picture made them look with frantic eyes on the road out front thinking it was "dad just drove by." The abuse pattern has touched every part of their lives to the core. Enduring 15 years of abuse and a 2-year divorce process has our daugher so confused she is having to learn to love again--starting with herself.

    Between tremendous work demands as a B,B,&B manager and the demands of motherhood, she would now be a mental case were it not for her mother being there with he more than me. Because my wife still works near Sara, it helps her avoid a 3-hour round trip each day to be here. The strain affects each of us so I know, first hand, the wide-ranging effects of an abusive man.

    We do what is necessary because our precious daughter deserves our ministry and needs it. Fortunately, she came to us in her time of need rather than some stupid Pastor who thinks it is as simple as a walk down the aisle to repent. You are totally right about the cover given abusers in a church environment assuming "getting right with God" is instant cure---IT IS NOT!!!!

  4. Gene,
    I am so sorry that the distress is continuing. Although things are better now that your daughter and grandsons are away from the daily abuse, that does not mean the abuse has stopped. It usually continues--for years. I lived that, too, so I know all too well what you and your family are going through. The knotted up stomach, inability to eat, diarrhea, intestinal distress, dread, fear.

    One caution: if there is any chance your son in law will take your daughter to court for non-visitation, she may need to reconsider. When it is verbal abuse, judges tend to side with the abuser. (actually, they also side with the abuser when it comes to physical and sexual abuse that the father has done against the children, and when it is on record with child protective services and even in court records!) I heard that many abusive men fight for primary physical care of their children, and of those that do, up to 70% win. They use the "parental alienation syndrome" argument, and the courts fall for it, often totally taking the children away from the protective mother. Even men who you would think would not fight for primary custody, often do. read more about it at http://protectivemothersalliance.blogspot.com/ Lundy Bancroft and Janice Levinson hold the Protective Mother's conference in January every year.

    As much as my ex griped and complained about having to take responsibility for the care of our daughter while we were together, it never occurred to me that he would fight to have the responsibility for her most of the time. As much as he hated celebrating Christmas and July 4th, and refused to allow us to put up a tree in the living room, and refused to go see the fireworks with us, etc, it never occured to me that he would want her with him on those days. But he did. And the court ordered that my daughter was to live with her dad.

    When she finally came to live with me, and she never wanted to see him again, I had to encourage her to go to his house every other weekend, so that he wouldn't take it to the court and prevent us from seeing each other at all. I told her if he caused any trouble/distress when she was at his house, that she should call me, and I would come get her right away. She did endure some rough times, but she never called me to pick her up early. The first few times were especially difficult, and in the years after that he continually pressured her to move back with him and put me and my family down, trying to turn her against us, trying to paint us as evil/stupid/overly rigid/overly religious and him as good/caring.

    Even if her ex does not want to fight for primary physical care, his parent(s) may urge him to do so.

    A true horror story is Jeanne King's "All but my Soul, Abuse Beyond Control." Jeanne's ex, who among other things, beat their sons with a belt buckle, leaving bruises that resulted in the children being kept from him by protective child services, used the court system to take the children away from their caring mother, who is a professional psychologist.

  5. While I do agree that the church is way behind in standing against domestic violence, a careful examination of the Scripture is in order. Paul call Husbands to LOVE their wives, and to treat their wives as they would their own flesh. Then Paul describes a marriage with God involved and encourages women to submit to their husbands.

    If a husband truly loves his wife, he simply would NOT abuse her physically, mentally, sexually, financially. Unfortunately, we live in a very imperfect world. And in order for some men to have a chokehold on their wives, they usually bring up this scripture without referencing the other on what husbands should do.

    I too, have been terribly abused by a Christian man and by the church system. BUT I am going to my church and speaking up and about it. The more people understand the dynamic involved, they absolutely agree that this is marriage based upon CONTROL, not LOVE.

    God bless you and thank you for your perspective and speaking out about the inequities. One which I always notice is the frequency of others that have never experienced abuse, is that they usually ask the question, "What did you do"? Implying that the abused asked for it, or did something to "deserve" such despicable behavior. When the dynamic is explained -that it is about control, and no matter what the abused does, it always comes down to the controller and his(her) behavior and attitude. That is indeed, something that MUST change!

    My friends that are married to beautiful, loving, God-fearing men, say that it is easy to submit to their husbands. That it is most like the relationship we should all have with our Savior. One based on unconditional LOVE.

    Thank you!

  6. Anonymous (Oct 26, 2011),
    I apologize for taking so long to publish your comment and also to respond. I suddenly realized that given the long list of things I had to do, I would not be able to complete taxes by the due date, nor get my garden planted by the first of June if I did not stop blogging and answering emails for awhile. I did not expect it to take this long.

    I am so sorry you, too, have been abused by the person who vowed to love and cherish you, and that your church sided with your abuser. But I am glad you are speaking up, teaching, advocating. Whatever you want to call it.

    You are exactly right; God did command husbands to love their wives--as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. As one woman said to me, if a man truly understands, grasps the love of Jesus and his sacrifice for us, he will love his wife deeply, sacrificially.

    The problem is that abusive men think they love their wives, that their abusive behavior is to school them because they love them so much. Their concept of love apparently is "if you love me, you won't report me to the police." "Love" then, is more about how the abuser can have his way, possess, dominate another without her leaving him. They do NOT comprehend Christ's love or connect the dots of what it requires from them. So when preachers tell abusers to take authority over their wives, the dots abusers connect is that authority over = love. Now they may not spell it out that way, but what they say and do says that is the effect the husband authority teaching has on them. I don't think it is enough for churches to deal with domestic violence, they have to stop teaching husbands to take authority over their wives, and instead teach husbands to cherish.

  7. Any religion that requires wives to become slaves (be submissive)of their husbands, and to treat them as god, is bound to cause trouble. The husband is bound to think of his wife as a thing, and she is likely to think of herself as inferior. This sort of teaching is unacceptable. Men love power, and they love to dominate women. A woman who allows this behavior by being submissive to her "master" is allowing abuse, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional. These types of marriages are not healthy. Whenever there is such unequal power in a relationship, abuse is likely to occur. One solution would be to get out of any organized religion that advocates this master/slave type marriage. A secular wife would be more unlikely to submit to abuse-she believes in her own equality, unlike conservative christian women. This is America-we believe in freedom-why do conservative christians want to take away the wife's freedom, rights, and privleges. To live a free life, women must abandon christianity. A subordinate can NEVER be equal to her master. And the master knows that, and starts to think of his wife as a thing.

  8. Anonymous,
    Thank-you for visiting my blog and commenting.
    "This is America-we believe in freedom-why do conservative christians want to take away the wife's freedom, rights, and privleges."

    I have concluded that Christian men (that is specifically, men who claim to be Christian) believe in freedom for men, but not for women. I gather they think if a Christian wife has freedom, the men will lose the freedom of their extra privileges. And it is true, they will. But taking advantage of others is not true freedom--it is slaveholding.

    You stated: "To live a free life, women must abandon christianity." I disagree with that statement. It is not Christianity that enslaves women. It is some of the people who do the enslaving and teach that it is God's plan and will for it to be so. Real Christianity DOES free women, and many women and men are working hard to prove to the enslaved ones that this is so. Many women have left the organized Christianity because of its enslavement of women, but remain devoutly Christian because they have experienced freedom in Christ. As Jesus said "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

    Sadly, far too many women do not differentiate between the human slaveholders and Christ who offers freedom, and end up throwing out Christ along with the organized religion.

    Remember, it is the Declaration of Independence that states "all men are created equal" and that our Creator has given us "unalienable rights." The Creator they were talking about is Christ, the God of the Christians. And that God does indeed offer freedom and life. In fact, it is the experience of that freedom and life that keeps women from leaving Christianity. But for many, it is only a matter of time before they figure out that true Christianity and the enslaved-woman- Christianity are two completely different things. When they do, they will keep Christ and drop the organized false Christianity.