“Complementarianism: Not misogynist, but first among misogynists”

Mark Driscoll really is God’s gift to bloggers. It’s petty, it’s cheap, and it’s as sleazy as a sportswriter putting “Tim Tebow” in their headline to attract hits but as God is my witness I cannot help myself. It’s just so easy.* Five years from now when he inevitably resigns in disgrace from a scandal involving the black-market sale of MMA graphic t-shirts he’ll look straight into the camera at the biblioblogging world and say “You won’t have Driscoll to kick around anymore”.

And we will shed tears.

This may seem especially tawdry since Joel has already posted about Driscoll twice (!) today. But I’ve always been a bandwagon blogger and something of a follower (Joel is undeniably one of the cool kids), plus Driscoll’s comments are so rich with untapped inanity that I think there are some angles to exploit.

For context, Christianity Today posted a short story about Driscoll’s upcoming interview in the British magazine ‘Christianity’, where he critiques the state of the Church across the pond.

“In excerpts released ahead of the magazine’s publication on Sunday, he claims that young men will not go to church so long as there are “guys in dresses preaching to grandmas”.

And in a blog post “for the Brits”, Driscoll writes:

…ask if you see enough substantive Christian men to lead your church for the next few generations, and if not, sound the alarm that there is a crisis!

I’ll try to briefly tie in some broad thoughts here. First, and apart from any scriptural debates, it should be noted that most egalitarians fear complementarianism because they think it leads to misogyny. Many think its intrinsically misogynist. Personally I think there may be a way for complementarian ideology to be expressed in non-misogynist ways, but practically speaking it leads to many poor outcomes for women.

There was a visual joke on “The Simpsons” where a FOX News helicopter flew across the screen with this message written on the side: “Not racist, but first among racists”. Egalitarian fears about complementarians could be expressed similarly: “Complementarianism: Not misogynist, but first among misogynists”. Basically, even if you could argue successfully that there isn’t any inherent misogyny to complementarianism its undeniable that misogyny finds fertile ground in the ideology. I hesitate to say Driscoll is a misogynist outright, but I find it seeped into his statements and their presuppositions.

His comment about the lack of young male leaders is a good example. He’s made similar comments before about the way women outnumber men in churches. This frightens him because complementarianism requires men because men lead churches. What any sociologist of religion could tell you is that this gender gap is a universal feature of religion, one that we haven’t adequately explained yet (I will pass on to my colleagues Driscoll’s hypothesis that clergy in “dresses” drive off young males; he may have solved the single greatest riddle in the discipline). Earlier today Joel noted that “let the women lead” could very well have been an answer to the British problem. But Driscoll’s words betray some disturbing intuitions that are part and parcel of his conservative complementarianism.

Let’s grant Driscoll’s premise, for the sake of discussion: Young men avoid church because there are guys in “dresses”.

So, young men will not accept the leadership and authority of men they think are wearing feminine pieces of clothing. Driscoll thinks the solutions is that they should wear different clothing, gruff up church, make it more appealing to young men, etc. Essentially, British Christians should capitulate to cultural norms about masculinity and the respect afforded to feminine figures.

What he doesn’t consider, what probably doesn’t even cross his mind, is that perhaps the Christ-like answer to the problem is to challenge cultural assumptions about gendered status-beliefs. Young men don’t respect feminine figures: isn’t the obvious Christian response to reject those norms, to stand up and say “Yes you may be uncomfortable with the feminine dress of our clergy, but the problem isn’t with us, its with you. Your disrespect of female figures, and your unwilligness to sit at the feet of female authority is not the way of the Kingdom we belong to. Your identity is not found in your gender, you do not have to defend your personal worth from gender-based insecurity“?

Driscoll’s complementarian ideology caused him to misdiagnose the problem (there are more religious women then men everywhere; its not the fault of the British church) and give a empty solution (bend to the will of the cultural norms rather than stand up against its misogynist assumptions). The latter occurred because his complementarianism, whether or not inherently misogynist, naturally accommodates the social realities of misogyny. It’s the uncomfortable reality of complementarianism made plain by the way thatKingdom truths cannot be fully expressed in its shadow.


*This is not to denigrate the undeniably good things that occur at Mars Hill churches. As a native Seattlite with dozens of friends who go to a Mars Hill affiliate I am personally aware of the many kingdom-building enterprises going on, as well as the rich spiritual blessings individuals find there. That said, I find that criticism of Driscoll’s behavior and words coming from parishioners inside his own church is non-existent, so all of this ribbing is both necessary and worthwhile.

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8 Replies to ““Complementarianism: Not misogynist, but first among misogynists””

  1. I love your humor, Josh!

    When Driscoll resigns, it won’t be because of the black-market MMA shirts, but it will involve MMA… you know, because MMA is the epitome of maleness as Driscoll says… you know, nearly naked buff dudes all oiled up and rubbing violently all over each other.

  2. I think this is spot on, but Driscoll doesn’t see what he does as accommodating cultural norms for the sake of mission. He sees those norms as transcendent eternal natural laws rooted in the character of God and in Scripture, which need to be not just allowed for but aggressively defended.

    1. Agreed, Travis. I just wonder whether he’ll ever step back and consider how those transcendent eternal natural laws look a lot like injustice.

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