For those who have, or have not, been following the firestorm surrounding comments regarding domestic violence that were made by Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), I would like to address a distinct aspect of this controversy that could easily be overlooked.
First of all, it is right to both oppose and outright reject all words and actions that minimize the severity and victimization of any form of abuse. Patterson and others would do well to not only step back and clarify, but to reject their own words in several of these cases as more than just “unwise“.
An important layer underneath this controversy that ought not to be lost what I would call “Radical Complementarianism.”
The term “complementarian” is not really used outside of evangelical circles. Those who are familiar with the concept, and its counter-positions, would describe it as a more conservative view of gender relationships where women submit to men in traditional roles of leadership in the church and the home. Evangelicals who do not describe themselves as complementarian generally fall into other categories such as egalitarian, feminist, womanist, or none of the above.
I would argue there is room for dialogue between each of these positions, as most can at least meet on the common ground that men and women are equals in God’s eyes.
Radical Complementarianism, on the other hand, usually leaves no room for dialogue. Its adherents do not teach true equality, despite their claims. Instead, they endorse a view of the world in which women were created to serve men. Masculinity, seen as divine, is elevated, while femininity, seen as carnal and seductive, is suppressed. As a result, women have little to no value on their own apart from being a complement to men.
Though shades of it were already present, Radical Complementarianism took full shape at SWBTS in this millenium. Having two degrees from SWBTS from this era, (M.Div., 2006, and Ph.D., 2011), I watched this happen personally. The two female professors I had for multiple courses in the areas of Hebrew and Church History were forced out of their positions because of their gender. Female enrollment all but died, except for a handful relegated to “women’s ministry”, music, or children’s ministry.
The shift that took place at SWBTS does not typify all Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, or complementarians for that matter. As a Southern Baptist and a SWBTS graduate, I am prayerful these current conversations will continue to challenge those who cite Bible verses to justify unbiblical behavior. Radical Complementarianism does not represent the way Jesus treated women, nor the way the Apostles led the Early Church. Examples of the elevation of women in a male-centric culture abound throughout the New Testament***.
I am also hopeful that Radical Complementarianism will soon be a thing of the past. There are a growing number of us who are committed, in both message and practice, to never subjugate or marginalize anyone on the basis of gender, race, nationality, or status. May we who are followers of Jesus be faithful to His example.
***See Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41, Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:39, Luke 23:49, John 20:14-18, Acts 1:12-14, Acts 2:17-18, Acts 9:36, Acts 16:40, Acts 18:24-26, Acts 21:7-9, Romans 16:1, 3, 7, 15, Philippians 4:2-3 to name a few.
-For Further Reading on the Paige Patterson controversy – each is well-thought, well-written, and comes from various viewpoints: