Menu Home

My dirty little complementarian secret

CBE conference happened this weekend. I really wanted to go, especially for some of the workshops. Plus, one of the speakers, Kevin Giles, was a former minister at my Adelaide church and having heard so many wonderful things about him, I’d have loved to have met him. But we ended up having other things on and it was also really expensive! (There was a reasonable student rate if you went for the whole time, but no concession for p/t). From all reports, it was a really interesting conference. It’s certainly reignited the gender debate here in Melbourne.

Arthur and I have great respect for both sides of the gender debate. (We use the terms complementarian and egalitarian.) We’ve appreciated the courtesy with which those at Ridley interact and feel that it’s a really positive environment. Those who’ve been following our blog for a while will know that we don’t find ourselves comfortably in either camp though if you pushed us we’d probably lean slightly more to the complementarian side of things.

But someone said to me the other day that from observing our behaviour, you’d think we were egalitarian. I can see that. We both preach. Arthur proudly encourages me to study the full M.Div. We thrash issues through and I’m often more vocal than Arthur. Arthur talks about ‘headship’ in terms of initiative to serve, not ‘leadership’ or ‘decision-making’. And that works for us. We find ourselves in a relationship where both of us are able to flourish and exercise our gifts irrespective of traditional gender roles.

But here’s my dirty little complementarian secret. I kind of like those gender roles. I want to be a mum. And not just be a mum for a bit and then go back to work. I want to do the stay-at-home, go to mothers’ group, mentoring younger women kind of mum. Not because I think it’s going to be easy (I’m Facebook friends with enough mums to hear plenty about the trials) but because I just want to. I feel like it’s part of being a woman. I might feel that way because of ‘how I’m wired’, as complementarians might argue. Or it might be because of the cultural construct I find myself in, as egalitarians might argue. Either way, it’s still something I want.

The Third Wave feminist in me says that’s OK. Even a conservative expression of femininity is valid. But the debate we’ve witnessed here in Melbourne suggests that there are some expressions of Christian femininity that are better than others – both sides stridently put forward a right and a wrong. So I feel a bit guilty for wanting a certain role. As if I’m taking sides. Except that I feel like my own life is a microcosm of the debate. Because there’s something in me that fears that living such a conservative role may not set my heart on fire like ministry does. And yet, for some reason, I feel drawn to it. Any other women experience this conflict?

Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

23 replies

  1. I share the feeling-drawn-to-it part! Not so much the conflict, although I’m not really in a position to worry about that too much right now.

    But here is something I think is really interesting:
    I went to a very academic school, the kind where you come out wanting to be anything, just to prove that as a woman you Can be anything. Shock of shocks, most of my good school friends went into law or medicine (or arts/law, or comm/law, or science/arts/dip.french). We were having a conversation about my work in children’s ministry a few years ago, when I was just getting into it. I admitted one of the things I loved about it was that it meant I could use my inner mom-longing to nurture wonderful children. (But that’s just one of the things! I love many other things as well! Please don’t fire me).

    Here’s the part where I was surprised: one by one, all of my up-and-coming-lawyer friends announced that they secretly wanted to be housewives. All of them. Never before had any mentioned wanting to be married, let alone a mother! The paradox is that the dream of motherhood isn’t one you can really work towards, like your dream course and your dream job and a house in the best neighborhood might be – you can’t get it just by wanting it more than the next person.

    Anyway, I just think it’s interesting that this appears to be something that doesn’t just affect Christian women who are surrounded by wonderful Christian mums, or who feel like they sit within a larger debate about roles – I doubt these girls would have ever heard of complementarians, or that there is even a debate going on.

    I’m going with inner-wiring.

  2. As usual a great piece of commentary from this blog! (I was hoping one of you two would make a comment on this, given the recent conference.)

    I’d be really interested in what the two of you think of this question: I started at Ridley thinking the Comp vs Egal debate was important close to first order, I haven’t changed my view at all but left College realising it was definitely second order. However reading the last panel discussion ( of the CBE conference I realise the stakes are being raised, Cole saying it’s a gospel issue, the implication that it leads to abuse (seminars about the abuse of women etc). So rightness or wrongness of theology aside, what’s going on here, I don’t understand this rhetoric?

    (Now thinking about theology, Tim Foster gave a paper about why 1 Tim 2 is occasional, it be interesting to read how he got there.)

  3. That’s a really interesting post Tamie. This continues to be a difficult issue for me to grapple with, and I enjoy your and Arthur’s writings on “gender stuff”. Keep ’em coming!

  4. Hey Luke
    Both camps (ie CBE and CBMW) have been raising the stakes for some years now. I guess it’s a result of the attrition. Each camp has been amassing more and more arguments to bolster their own viewpoint, and each camp is now more assured than ever of the rightness of their own position, and yet we are no closer to a way forward. I think the level of rhetoric reflects the fact that brothers and sisters have started trying to excommunicate one another. I think it has become a gospel issue, but not for the reasons that CBMW and CBE think… :(

    I’m planning to post about this after my overseas shopping/packing is done! :D

  5. Hi Luke

    I reckon both sides use the ‘abuse of women’ argument. Egals say that Comps are subjugating women. Comps say that unless men lead, women are often frustrated/neglected. Both are motivated by a deep concern for the welfare of women, though they say it quite differently. Hence why the stakes are high (and keep getting higher). I think the mistake is in thinking that subscribing to one model or the other will liberate women. But both complementarian and egalitarian marriages can allow room for the wife to flourish – and I’ve also seen plenty of both complementarian and egalitarian marriages in which she feels frustrated.

    But yes, definitely second order! :)

    We heard Tim’s paper in Ministry Formation last year and we’ve chatted with him about it since as he’s thought more and tightened it up a bit. I found it very stimulating – definitely worth the read!

  6. Hi all,

    I just popped over, as I got a link back on my blog-site. Thought I’d just clarify Graham’s position on the 1st order/2nd order thing, as not to misrepresent him. In the Question and Answer time after that first session, he was asked about it:

    Q) Is the Egalitarian position a Gospel issue? Is it secondary?
    A) It is a secondary issue. He (GC) wanted to take a missional point of view in his talk.

    Q) People on both sides who say Women in ministry is a 2nd order issue. If someone has been given Leadership gifts, isn’t that a first order issue?
    A) No. Reason: the Gospel per se was a 1st order issue, in a way that one can demonstrate. But, language of 1st order and 2nd order is not the language of important and unimportant. Reason: Gal. 1 – anathema clause. Phil.1 – people preaching a Gospel when Paul was in prison. He says – whatever the motive, Christ is being preached. Anglican terms: Faith and Morals (1st), Order (2nd). The issue is degrees of importance.

    Hope that helps! :)

    Cheers guys – ps, I really like your thoughts on this blog-post. Thanks for your honesty – it’s encouraging to share like that. Oh, and for the record, I’m complementarian in a 2nd order sense! ;)

  7. As an egalitarian I fully support (as if you need my, or any other egalitarian’s, support) your desire to be a mother. That isn’t incompatible with women being able to do all of the stuff men can do but has more to do with biology – no woman should be ashamed to be a woman and do things that only women can do (biologically speaking). Just from reading your blog you do seem a bit egalitarian. I don’t think there is anything wrong with socially constructed roles as long as we understand them to be just that. I start getting frustrated when those roles are moralized. Mutual submission is a beautiful thing, even in the midst of gender differences, isn’t it?

  8. Hi Joey

    My hope is that both sides go with mutual submission at least in some sense. Otherwise you’d have to dismiss Eph 5:21! ;)

    I wonder whether you could explain a little more fully about the biology thing though? In the end, there are obvious things that women can do that men can’t but do you think it goes the other way as well? Or can women do everything men can do plus they can have babies?

    The reason I ask is that it makes life heaps complicated for a woman! I’m reading ‘Raising Women Leaders’ at the moment which is a collection of essays looking at the apparent lack of women leaders in pentecostal churches, despite a strong theology of ministry based on gifting, not gender. Very interesting stuff. But one of the issues they raise is the juggling act that many women do because they want to be both mothers AND do ministry. I haven’t got to their solutions yet but it’s certainly a tension I feel – do more opportunities necessarily mean more freedom?

  9. Hi Tammie,
    I went to the CBE conference and found it incredibly affirming. Although I have grown up in a very egalitarian home (my father was the first male on the ‘Movement for the Ordination of Women’ in Sydney), I have been to a couple of Anglican churches lately where it seems that ‘soft patriarchy’ is being preached to their younger services.

    The conference was important in a time where ground made for women in ministry in Melbourne is being lost…See There were very few young women at the conference, and I believe this is because of this trend that is very popular with young men and women alike (and lack of advertising to younger congregations-although in some places they were banned from this).

    I think whether it is a 1st or 2nd order issue is in some ways distracting, it is a life issue. As Hannah C comments in that article, to have your calling named sinful or disobedient or be told that your influence can only be in certain arenas of life (while men have few limits if any) is incredibly disheartening and discouraging amongst other things.

    I don’t think you have to be a complimentarian to want to be a mum, I want that too, and many of the women at the conference had been full time mums at certain times, including my mother. But it was her choice, not her husbands, and not her churchs (although she was discouraged from seeking ordination in the sydney diocese at a young age). Egalitarians are complimentarians too, seeing that there are complimentary roles and characteristics of men and women…and that’s why it is so much richer when women are in leadership.

    I think it is healthy debate, and the danger only comes when people are not hearing alternate views which is what I think is happening in a lot of younger, more homogenous churches.

    I felt really encouraged to hear women teach, and that it was a conference on equality, not dominance, feminism or a revolution. It was in relation to people with disabilities, women, the poor etc…all whom Jesus loved and turned social norms on their head for.

    I’m glad that you’ve opened a good, respectful and honest discussion of this. Thanks.

    Peace, Em

  10. Sure Tamie,

    “do more opportunities necessarily mean more freedom?”

    Great question!!!! No they probably mean less freedom. I would argue that traditional gender roles are not biblical – they are not wrong, but they are not biblical. But I would also argue that traditional gender roles have relegated men to a life that lacks a great deal of freedom. Wendell Berry has a great essay on this concept. He argues that men and women should both be more interested in the economy of the home than the economy of the world. This doesn’t mean that women have a specific role and men have a specific role but that they should both be interested in doing their part around the house and in the family.

    I don’t think that we can have everything we want. If you want a child then your life will become that child (though men can be stay-at-home just as readily as women). It isn’t a call away from ministry but to a different sort of ministry. It is less an issue of gender role and more an issue of priority. Being an egalitarian, for me, means not that women and men should do all of the same stuff, but that if the gifting is there it is wrong to deny it. If a woman has been given the gift of preaching and has the desire in her heart then by all means let her do it.

    Men can’t have babies. But I remember when I was 12 years old and my strength increased drastically as I grew. The same didn’t happen to the females in my class. I understand there are biological differences and am incredibly grateful for them! Men and women are not the same but I think we do a disservice to the Kingdom to deny the gifts given to women because of, I would contend, poor readings of scripture.

    I hope that helps! I really have seen complimentarians who are respectful and honoring of both genders and I appreciate that. I just come down on the issue from a slightly different angle I guess.

    Here is a blog I’ve found pretty insightful:

    It is a blog about women in ministry and they do a really thoughtful job of addressing scriptural disputes on the subject.

    Thanks for the dialogue!


  11. Of course the one thing men can do that women can’t is father children. Hence the whole marriage thing. Many men also have a burning desire to be parents. However, its socially very difficult for a man to take on the main nurturing role in the family – I did it for a while when our kids were small and I was always a bit of an outsider at playgroup and such like. I don’t think that’s to do with biology, its a social thing.

    I think the question about gender roles is often a case of “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail”. As a man I am able to research and write on social policy, play guitar, enjoy football and cook lasagne, but am completely unable to fix engines, play the trumpet or make plants grow. Are any of these related to my gender? Probably not, but they are part of my individuality and my education.

    However, I guess that’s a sidelight on the egalitarian/complementarian debate on which I’m clearly an egalitarian, but am married to a complementarian. So Tamie’s last question intrigued me – do more opportunities mean more freedom? I think the answer is clearly yes, but the follow up question would be, how much freedom do you want? No-one can be liberated against their will. Freedom is hard for all of us because it means we have to choose and be accountable for our choices, and with that comes a certain amount of regret for the things we don’t choose. Hence Amanda’s lawyers who dream of being housewives.

  12. Hi folks!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am trying to reply on little internet on our trip so sorry for the short replies!

    Emma, thanks for the link to the article, though you’ll notice I’ve already linked to it in the post. I think that working out whether it’s a first or second order issue is precisely what should govern how we interact. If it’s first order (i.e. gospel issue) then comments like Hannah received aren’t out of line. If it’s second order, they’re completely unacceptable. One of the things that has saddened Arthur and me about Melbourne is the way that those who disagree on this issue demonise their Christian brothers and sisters on the other ‘side’. As far as I can tell, that goes both ways which is why I take it that proper classification can be helpful, even if the issue is very personal.

    I’m wary of the language of choice or women choosing what they want to do. You’ll notice that in the post I’ve associated that with feminism rather than with egalitarianism. I think it’s easy to slip into thinking about ‘my rights’ rather than serving others. The question is not, ‘What do I want to do?’ so much as ‘How can I best serve?’. Of course, it’s best when the two overlap! And, of course, how a woman might best serve might be as e.g. pastor of a church but service rather than rights ought to drive that, I think.

    Joey and Jon, thanks for the comments, I don’t have time to repy fully to both of you, but I wonder, Joey, whether you agree with Jon? Both on the freedom thing and the question of what’s related to gender? On the latter, my first reaction is to think of that as a bit of a caricature. The point is not whether men should fix engines but whether the fact that only women can bear children ought to have some bearing on how we think about men / women.

    Feel free to continue discussing! I’ll pop in as I can! :)

  13. Hi Tamie, yes good point that is a caricature. However, the serious intent is that as individuals some of us break the mould, and some can never fit into it. Some women are very physically strong, while some men are not. Some women are physically unable to have children, or psychologically unable to nurture them. While men can never bear children, many are great nurturers. Etc etc. Arguments about gender roles, like arguments about race, tend to prevent us from seeing the person and push us towards relating to their stereotype instead.

    Personally I think this also applies to leadership. Since I work in a female-dominated profession I’m strongly aware that many women are gifted leaders. Such women will chafe with frustration if they are unable to take leadership roles in their church, especially if these roles are taken by less able men. It’s hard to see causing this frustration as an act of love, it seems to me more like an act of law enforcement and to my understanding that’s not in the spirit of the gospel. Not something I’d want to end a friendship over, though.

  14. I agree with Jon. I think he and I were speaking of freedom in different terms. Jon seems to be using freedom to mean a greater amount of choices available. I was trying to demonstrate that often times those choices, though there are more, aren’t exactly freedoms and very often are more restrictive. When only men were in the work force feminism said that women should be allowed to work too, and I agree. But that work isn’t more free. Women went from one restrictive role, being home-makers, to another, having a boss. I don’t think focusing a conversation around activities is helpful in the end. Maybe all the activities (jobs, gifts, etc.) should be done by whomever is best suited for them (even if it is a woman, a la Deborah).

    Scot McKnight wrote a helpful book called The Blue Parakeet in which explores the question “Do we allow women to do all of the things they were allowed to do in the New Testament?” The thrust of the book is about how to read the Bible well and he uses women in ministry as an example in the final chapters.

    Gender roles are interesting. There are “roles” that are obviously biological but every culture expresses gender differently. In some cultures the women work the fields.

    Here’s a question I often find myself asking: If male headship is a result of the fall (Genesis 3:16) then why wouldn’t the liberation of Christ require us to move away from those categories?

  15. Ah Joey, I think you’ve put your finger on the central issue. I think the two big questions in the debate are:
    1. Is male headship a result of the fall or does the fall distort good male headship?
    2. If it is, does the NT move away from it and towards liberation of Christ or does it seek to restore male headship, but in the image of Christ?

    I’m not sure either of these has been resolved yet!

  16. Tammie, your questions here at the end are perfect. I’m slowly working on an engagement to those questions which I’ll post on my blog some time later this week. If you’d like to continue the conversation here on your blog I’d be happy to oblige. I really appreciate the way that both you and Arthur approach discussion thoughtfully!

  17. Tammie

    the problem is that most women are happy in the gender-based roles allowed by the complementarian position … but what if you are a woman, and you are different? What if the Holy Spirit has gifted you with abilities that complementarians say a woman is not allowed to use?

    When I was studying theology, and was so full of joy about all the marvelous things I was learning about God, I wanted to be used – so I asked the Pastor if there was anything I could do. His two options were volunteer for the creche, and/or the morning tea roster. Both great ministries for those who can serve in this way – but though I am a woman I have no ability in these things (though I have learned to help with morning tea, and can now cook a passable meal).

    The complementarian view is based strictly on gender and not on the Spirit’s gifting, which seems to me to be opposite to what we find in the NT church.

    But what I really have problems with is the way the whole gender issue has been linked to the doctrine of the immanent Trinity being hierarchical. I think this is dangerously close to Arianism and find I agree with Kevin Giles work on this.

  18. I don’t believe that egalitarianism is the same as 3rd wave feminism. I blogged the other day “Why I am an egalitarian and renounce “Feminism”” and believe that Christianity and Feminism don’t have much in common. Though it may appear that there are some tenents held in common.

    You can read my article here“feminism”/

    I think an egalitarian position requires freedom for you to answer your God given calling to experience mother hood and be a home maker and all that entails as a valid calling. One of the dangers in both the comp and ega positions is in making a distinction between ministy and so called vocational callings.

  19. Hi Dinah, thanks for sharing!

    I’m with you on the question of being ‘different’. As I said, I feel the internal tug of both positions.

    And I reckon you’re on the money with the immanent Trinity thing. I can see why it’s come up for discussion but I suspect it’s a red herring in the gender discussion.

    I’m not sure the argument is as simple as gifting vs. gender. Complementarians don’t reject the Spirit’s gifting but restrict the appropriateness of where these gifts can be used. That’s a normal Christian thing to do – not everyone can prophesy at once in 1 Cor 14, for example, regardless of gifting! :) Likewise, I’ve known people who have extraordinary gifts of leadership but have not been permitted to lead in the church for other reasons (family, doctrinal, pragmatic, etc.) So restriction of gifting is not the issue, I think. What is at stake is whether gender is an appropriate reason to restrict ministry. In this case, Spirit-led Christians need to be Bible-led Christians (since the word is the Spirit’s work) and come to terms with the passages on gender and ministry. (And plenty of egalitarians have worked really hard on that.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: