Menu iconFilter Results
Topics: Complementarianism, Egalitarianism, Eikon

Do Egalitarians Need Safe Spaces?

April 29, 2024

The April 2024 issue of Christianity Today includes three cover stories addressing ongoing differences between complementarians and egalitarians. Titled “Division of Labor,” the cover asks whether egalitarians and complementarians are really as opposed to one another as people suppose. Inside the magazine, the editors introduce the three authors—Gordan Hugenberger, Dani Treweek, and Gaby Viesca—as “ministry leaders” who “offer better ways forward for all schools of thought on women’s roles in the church and the home” (3).

In an editorial, executive editor Joy Allmond says that their coverage offers a “third way” between egalitarianism and complementarianism—a kind of truce between the two sides (7).1 Allmond says that the magazine’s approach to egalitarianism and complementarianism is in keeping with the vision of CT’s founder Billy Graham, who “envisioned a convening point for Christians who don’t belong in progressive settings or fundamentalist contexts but who long to link arms with other sojourners somewhere in between” (7).

The editors are aiming high with this issue, but sadly the effort is long on good intentions but short on execution. Even though the aim is to be above the fray, the authors of the cover stories are primarily egalitarian, and their egalitarianism is presumed at almost every turn. Even the lone complementarian contributor—Dani Treweek—is so dissatisfied with the state of complementarianism that she wonders aloud whether she will call herself a complementarian anymore (48).2 Treweek’s reticence about her own view is in stark contrast to the two egalitarian articles, one of which makes a biblical case against there being any restrictions on women in ministry (Hugenberger)3 and another which is a kind of “how-to guide” on transforming a complementarian church into an egalitarian one (Viesca).4 The result is not above the fray but a lopsided presentation in favor of the egalitarian view.

That is why the editors of Eikon thought it would be useful for us to offer some feedback to the two egalitarian cover stories, as well as to one additional piece that claims Mary Magdalene was “The First Apostle.”5

Three Egalitarian Pitfalls

My aim in this essay is to engage critically with Gaby Viesca’s contribution, which appears under the title, “Beyond Damage Control: Churches moving toward egalitarianism should make women the priority, not public relations.” Her thesis is very simple. She wishes to warn egalitarian pastors about three pitfalls to avoid when steering a church from complementarianism to egalitarianism (51). Even people with the best of egalitarian intentions can botch the job, and Viesca wants to help egalitarian pastors not to lose their way in the face of complementarian opposition.

The first pitfall is assuming that issuing a new statement on women will lead to egalitarian outcomes in the actual ministry of the church. On the contrary, complementarianism is a system that must be deconstructed from the inside out. There must be intentional, direct action against “traditions,” “assumptions,” “value systems,” and “structures” that would prevent women from assuming leadership in a church (51-52). All of these “invisible barriers” need to be eliminated (51). For example, churches will need to consider what “maternity leave” might look like for a female senior pastor (52).

The second pitfall in “formerly complementarian churches” is assuming that the job is done after one woman is allowed to preach (52). On the contrary, churches need to adopt a “full-fledged vision for female preachers in our churches” (52). One woman preaching every now and then will not do. Indeed, churches need to staff-up with women from a variety of perspectives, ethnic backgrounds, and life experiences.

The third pitfall consists of the failure to recognize the “emotional toll” that these transitions have on women. Discussing what a woman can or cannot do in ministry is a “fully embodied” experience for women and can inflict emotional trauma (52). In debates about women in ministry, the “playing field is not level” (52). Unseen power dynamics put women at a disadvantage. Male church leaders may not realize that the arguments can be one-sided. Therefore, the church should provide “safe spaces” for both men and women to “voice their spiritual and emotional needs and struggles” (52).

Authoritarian Implementation

Viesca argues that these three pitfalls undermine churches in the process of transitioning from complementarianism to egalitarianism. And yet, Viesca fails to consider the biggest problem with transitioning a church to egalitarianism—the fact that egalitarianism falls short of what the Bible actually teaches. Of course, the question of what the Bible teaches on these things is the most contested issue between Egalitarians and Complementarians. And yet Viesca does not spend even one sentence making a biblical argument for her position. It’s as if egalitarianism is so self-evidently true that eventually everyone will surely come around.

Perhaps most troubling is her opening anecdote in which a pastor announces to his complementarian church a transition to egalitarianism. The pastor knows that the congregation is “not of one mind” on the issue (51). Nevertheless, Viesca gives the impression that it is better for a pastor to plow forward over the objections of complementarians than to get bogged down in persuading the consciences of the people. One need not be a congregationalist to see the problems with this kind of top-down, authoritarian overthrow of a church’s complementarian doctrine.

Systemic Complementarianism?

Viesca’s argument relies heavily on a problematic social justice framework. She speaks of complementarianism as if it were some sort of systemic injustice to be overturned. She contends that even if a church formally endorses an egalitarian position, complementarian “systems” and “structures” may still remain at every level of a church’s ministry and prevent women from ascending to leadership. Those systems and structures come in the form of “traditions,” “invisible barriers,” “unspoken rules,” and “value systems”—all of which must be dismantled before women can assume leadership. Indeed, churches must ensure that a woman’s responsibility to care for her own children is no barrier to leadership.

Viesca never addresses the fact that the “traditions” and “value systems” she desires to dismantle often reflect the biblical convictions of church members. Theology drives practice and culture, yet Viesca recommends downplaying theology in favor of pragmatic transformation. Again, she does not make a substantive case for the egalitarian position but rather assumes it to be true, while warning leaders against focusing too much on persuasion through Scripture. Rather, she argues that church leaders should focus their efforts on creating specific pathways for women to assume leadership (52). She speaks of representation as a key value for appointing leadership in the church (52), even though this is not one of the values the Bible gives us (see 1 Tim 3:1ff). In this way, her recommendations reflect the grammar of social justice ideology but not scriptural qualifications for church leadership.


Near the end of her essay, Viesca says that the “chief question” is whether or not churches are willing to create pathways for women to assume leadership in the church. But in reality, the big question is whether egalitarianism is true in the first place. Viesca never compels readers that it is, for she never even considers a substantive case for her view. Her advice, therefore, sort of floats in the ether with no real grounding in the Bible, theology, or tradition. For that reason, her Scripture-free recommendations are just as likely to result in a church-split or a pastor being fired as they are to achieve an egalitarian revolution. This is no basis upon which to transform a complementarian church into an egalitarian one. On the contrary, it’s a recipe for destroying a church’s faithfulness to Scripture.

Editor’s Note: The article above is Part I of a response to Christianity Today’s April 2024 cover story on gender and appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon. Parts II and III can be read here and here.

1 Joy Allmond, “In This Issue: Editor’s Note,” Christianity Today 68, no. 3 (April 2024): 7.

2 Danielle Treweek, “Will ‘Complementarianism’ Survive? Cancellation, Co-Option, and Cannibalization of the Movement Threatens Its Future,” Christianity Today 68, no. 3 (April 2024): 48–50.

3 Gordon P. Hugenberger, “Joint Heirs: Complementarians and Egalitarians Are Not as Divided as Some Think,” Christianity Today 68, no. 3 (April 2024): 44–47. The web version of this article appears under the title “Complementarian at Home, Egalitarian at Church? Paul Would Approve” at

4 Gaby Viesca, “Beyond Damage Control: Churches Moving toward Egalitarianism Should Make Women the Priority, Not Public Relations,” Christianity Today 68, no. 3 (April 2024): 51–52. The web version of this article appears under the title “Egalitarianism Is More Than a PR Statement” at

5 Jennifer Powell McNutt and Amy Beverage Peeler, “The First Apostle: Jesus Welcomed the Witness of Mary Magdalene. So Should We.,” Christianity Today 68, no. 3 (April 2024): 55–59. The web version of this article appears under the title “The First Apostle’s Unlikely Witness” at

Did you find this resource helpful?

You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.

Donate Today