Part 2 of a series on Complementarity & Mutuality–originally published on www.girlsgonewise.com.
By Mary Kassian
This is the second of a 5-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality. In the rhetoric surrounding gender roles, complementarity versus mutuality is often presented as a “red-pill-or-blue-pill” either-or choice. But that’s a false dilemma. That’s a pill we don’t have to swallow.
In the movie, The Matrix, the main character, Neo, is offered a choice between swallowing a red pill or a blue pill. The blue pill would allow him to remain in the Matrix, an illusionary computer-generated world. The red pill would lead to his escape out of the Matrix and into the real world. It was an either-or scenario. He couldn’t have it both ways.
The rhetoric in the Evangelical world often frames the discussion about gender roles in “either-or” scenarios. Women are led to believe that they only have two choices: They can choose to swallow the red pill of mutuality OR blue pill of complementarity. Not both.
I’ll never forget being interviewed for a cover story of a prominent Christian magazine in the early 90s. The reporter, who could barely conceal her hostility, phrased her first question like this: “So, do you believe in male leadership or do you believe in women in ministry?” She wanted me to be the poster child for the “CON” side of a PRO/CON argument for women in ministry. Great. As if.
Either-Or. Red or Blue. Hmm. Which to choose? Which to choose? . . . The snarky part of me felt like going all “tit-for-tat” on her and firing back, “Do you believe in asking stupid questions or do you not understand the fallacy of the false dilemma?” But that wouldn’t have been nice, and it probably would have done little to correct her impossible rhetoric.
Presenting two options as if they are contradictions or contraries, when in fact they are not, is a common logical fallacy. It’s called “the false dilemma,” because the “dilemma,” or need to choose between the two options, is “false.” This fallacy is also known as the “either-or fallacy” because it makes you think that your options are limited to either one choice or the other.
I’ve encountered a lot of either-or fallacies about complementarianism over the years, all of which make me want to respond with a super-exaggerated eye-ball roll or exasperated head-thunk to the table. Because unfortunately, when there’s a false dilemma, the discussion is biased before the respondent even opens her mouth. She’s put at a disadvantage simply in the way the question is framed. For example:
Please. Give me a break. Complementarians believe in mutuality, reciprocity, unity, equality, women’s rights, women in ministry, women in leadership, women using spiritual gifts, and the personhood of women just as much as egalitarians do. All of the scary either-or scenarios I’ve listed above pose false dilemmas. But honestly, if I had an air mile for every time I’ve heard the discussion about complementarity framed in such terms, I could take several trips around the world.
And that’s even not to mention all the straw [wo]men arguments and outlandish accusations that complementarity supports abuse and rape. But alas, I digress. . .
To be fair, egalitarians could likely come up with a “false dilemma” and “outlandish accusation” list of their own. Sadly, there’s no shortage of complementarians who use false logic and inflammatory rhetoric. It’s a common malady.
In this post, I want to aim toward a more authentic discussion. I want to expose these false dilemmas and encourage folks to try to avoid them in conversation. I want to firmly stake the claim that complementarity and mutuality are NOT either-or concepts. Indeed, the exact opposite is true. Complementarity embraces mutuality. Complementarians desire mutuality as much as egalitarians do. Our point of difference is not mutuality (equality, reciprocity, unity, etc. etc.). Our point of difference is our respective views on the means whereby this will be achieved.
- Complementarians claim we achieve mutuality by embracing God-given male-female role distinctions.
- Egalitarians claim we achieve mutuality by embracing the fact that no such distinctions exist.
The question is definitely NOT about which viewpoint upholds the dignity, honor, full personhood, and mutuality of woman. They both do. We merely disagree on the route the Bible says we must take to reach the destination. The disagreement is no small matter. Though I won’t unpack it now, I believe the crux of the debate—and the essential difference between comps and egals —ultimately boils down to a difference of approach in the way we view and handle the Word of God. I’ll say more about that some other time.
Complemetarians believe that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus. Role distinction and mutuality in a redeemed male-female relationship reflect characteristics of the Godhead and of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Yes, practically, this involves males stepping up to the plate to head up both individual and corporate church families. But no, this does not logically necessitate wooden, unilateral relationships in which men boss women around like commandos bossing around minions. On the contrary, complementarity solicits cooperation, togetherness, and mutuality. It calls for a profound reciprocity.
Authors of the Bible acknowledge the BOTH-AND. When they discuss distinct male-female roles, they almost always frame up the conversation within the context of male-female mutuality. For example:
We would do well to mimic this pattern. Complementarians ought to clearly acknowledge the “both-and” nature of complementarity and mutuality when we speak of gender roles. To fail to do this paints an incomplete picture. In male-female relationships, as in the body of Christ as a whole, our differences ought to be the foundation and catalyst for a profound unity and mutuality. (More about that in my next post, when I talk about “The Game Winning Plan.”) Furthermore, if you egals truly want to have an authentic conversation with us comps, you too need to acknowledge the “both-and” nature of complementarity and mutuality. Otherwise, the discussion will in effect be over before it can even start.
So the next time you hear someone pit complementarity against mutuality (or any of the other false dilemmas), kindly point out the fallacy of their rhetoric. . . And maybe suggest that they donate an air mile to my account.
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