Out of recent conversations about church culture in the light of recent abuse scandals we’ve seen a renewed debate about complementarianism. It’s a little confusing as to how this has happened because in the cases primarily linked to complementarian leaning churches the victims of abuse tended to be young men whereas in at least one of the cases where a man abused power over women, the theological culture was egalitarian.
However, this is where we are and as I commented in a recent article, the attack against complementarianism is not just that the theology enables abuse but that the theology is in and of itself abusive. The basis of the argument is that complementarian emphasis on headship and submission takes away agency and autonomy from adult women. See for example:
Now at this stage if you are expecting me to defend complementarianism on the basis that it doesn’t undermine autonomy, I’m going to have to disappoint. You see, the Biblical position is more that autonomy itself is a bad thing not a good thing.
In fact, if we go to Genesis 3, we discover that craving for autonomy is at the heart of original sin. That’s what it will mean for Adam and Eve to be as God if they eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s what the serpent is trying to draw the first man and woman into, to get them to make decisions for themselves about right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and nourishment.
The important thing to obser4ve though is that the Bible doesn’t just take away that kind of autonomy from women but from both men and women. First of all, it means that we are completely dependent upon God as we saw in a recent discussion on the importance and implication of gifts. That I am dependent upon God for grace and gifting tells me I am not autonomous.
We are not islands. It is taken away from men back in Genesis 2 when God says “It is not good for man to be alone.” In other words, autonomy is not good. Adam needed a helper. Furthermore, as we saw in the look at gifts, we are limited in our gifting so that we are dependent upon others. Paul emphasises this mutual interdependency in 1 Corinthians 12.
The desire for independence and autonomy has become a particular holy grail of modern western liberal thinking. However, it is worth remembering both that the desire has been there right back since the fall and that it is something Scripture marks out as not good. I’m not autonomous, I am not an island, I am completely dependent upon God and we are dependent upon each other.