Critics have done a brilliant job of establishing all that complementarianism isn’t. I am grateful for their groundwork. But today, I want to explore what egalitarianism is. I want to move beyond a justified critique of complementarianism toward a strong egalitarian theology against abuse.
The epidemic of women’s unpaid work is a serious problem and it’s one that should concern us as Christians. Whether by implication, necessity, or demand, women aren’t being credited or compensated for their work. They are often taken less seriously as professionals and expected to take sole responsibility for housework and other traditionally feminine kinds of work. Not all labor—such as household work—is the kind of work for which we give and receive a paycheck. But it remains that for much of history, patriarchy has ensured that all of women’s work—official and unofficial and paid and unpaid—is seen as less than, and that women’s labor can be taken for granted.
Many complementarians want to respect women’s needs and stories and benefit more concretely from their insights, but are not sure how to begin moving in that direction. I used to leave church in frustration every week because of the implicit marginalization on display in services. A childhood, or lifetime, of watching women pushed further to the edges of leadership and visibility has an immense impact on a woman’s self-worth.
Studying hierarchical complementarians seemed a good choice for the project. A colleague, Patti, and I approached three of them, and they agreed to interviews. We invited them to study us in return, and they were surprisingly enthusiastic.
For the first time in modern history, God is placing women in strategic positions of influence and leadership within the church, public, corporate, charity, and voluntary sectors, in unprecedented numbers. Women are called to flourish in these arenas. However, there are significant external and internal issues that hinder women in leadership in unique ways.
I overheard an amazing conversation on my way back from lunch at a conference I recently attended. A university student casually mentioned the history of strong women leaders in the early church, using Priscilla as an example, to his friend. He then passionately contended for women as equal partners in church leadership. I quickly realized that I knew the student who was advocating for female pastors and teachers.