Perhaps we all could listen a little better – a response to Aimee Byrd

Aimee Byrd has written this article, essentially arguing that Complementarians need to listen to people including herself who have been challenging their theology and culture but essentially giving up on us (I identify as a Complementarian) arguing that we are beyond hope. We are simply unable to listen.

When Aimee’s book first came out, I reviewed it and I encouraged people to read it. Yes, there were things I didn’t think were completely accurate or fair and I recognised that she wrote at times out of anger, her book was polemical.  However, I argued that there was a place for angry writing and her concerns needed to be heard. 

And I wasn’t alone. Along with me, many Complementarians read her book, appreciatively.  We did listen. We have been listening.  We recognised that there were things that we needed to be challenged on.  She was pushing at an open door because plenty of us had already been doing our own careful thinking and revisiting Christians from within the Reformed tradition going further back (people like John Calvin).[1]

So, when Aimee Byrd says that Complementarians cannot listen, has she heard us when we have said that we are listening?

However, listening and even recognising the things you’ve got wrong does not mean that you will always agree on everything. It is a postmodern phenomenon that “I don’t agree because of this thought out and evidenced position” is now conflated with “you are not listening.”

So, we responded too.  This included women who agreed with Complementarian theology and men and women who had been victims of abuse and bullying.  Our response was a request.  First we asked that people speaking and writing from the context of US culture wars would stop to recognise that there was more to the world than the southern states of the US, more to the church than American fundamentalism. 

We explained that, there were lots of people around the world who happily held the label “Complementarian” not because of late 20th Century American thinking. Our theological traditions went back further than those people and looked to men and women who were complementarian before the word existed.  We pointed out the significant differences of thinking and practice between what is now being referred to as “Patriarchalism.” 

We also spent lots and lots of time going over the particular theological debate that Aimee had been most outspoken on, the EFS/Neo-Classical-Theism spat.  We showed how the Neo-Classical-Theists were unfair in their attack.  No, whilst there are unhelpful things on both sides, neither side have slid into heresy.

Then we noted the problems of power, control, manipulation and abuse existed within other theological positions.  People have been victims of controlling or abusive “egalitarians too.” 

Does that mean that all “complementarians” have listened? By no means and some of the reactions that Aimee and others have received have fallen a long way short of godliness. Writing off someone as having gone liberal because you are uncomfortable with their challenge is not on.

Does it mean we’ve done our bit of listening and can stop now? No I don’t think it does. I’m not claiming that we have heard everything we need to. We need to listen more. We need to listen better. There’s more to be said in the conversation.

Now, here’s a question the other way.  Have people like Aimee listened? What has she done when fellow women have spoken. Has she allowed their voices to be heard.  Have a look at these tweets.

Do you see what is happening here. Not only is Aimee saying that Complementarians cannot listen. She is saying that they cannot speak.  She basically accuses anyone who doesn’t hold her position of being duped or compromised for their own benefit.

Now I appreciate that a lot of the recent debate comes out of deep heart felt cries of hurt and pain. I understand that. However, the risk is that the pain is leading to such cries that they drown out the cries of others. It seems that you can be the wrong type of woman or the wrong category of victim. Their voices are silenced. Everyone ends up feeling clobbered.

So, Aimee, many of us have been listening but others need to be heard too. This means we need to take it in turns to listen to speak. Just as I argued back in my review, this means that we need to read Aimee’s book as well as contributions from others such as Elyse Fitzpatrick (see both Worthy and Jesus & Gender).

It may mean that we need to acknowledge that some are so caught up in their culture war on both sides that they will never listen but I hope this doesn’t mean that all will be tarred with the same brush. It does mean that even when we have been listening that we cannot stop listening or that we don’t need to listen more and listen better.

It also means that there’s a need to hear from people like Dani Treweek, another woman, a complementarian but speaking from a slightly different context to Aimee. We need to hear the voices of men and women from the UK, from Australia and New Zealand, from South America, from Nigeria and from South-East Asia.

The thing is that much of the falling out has been between people who are/should be on the same side. We are talking about people who love Jesus, love the Gospel, love the truth of inspired Scripture and really care about the church – the body and the bride of Christ. We cannot afford to give up on the conversation. We cannot afford to stop hearing, we cannot afford to stop trying to speak.

Let’s all give listening a go.

[1] See for example these two publications. and

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