Notes on Starting a Movement

Note to self when starting a movement I don’t know I’m starting – don’t offer up a new name for it. If I had it to do all over again, I would title the article that lit the match that lit the fuse that started the fire last week A New Wave OF Complementarians.  Oh, wait.  I did title it that way.  Well, somebody shortened it to New Wave Complementarianism, and that seems to have stuck.  None of us involved in the original conversation could have foreseen how the conversation would take off in the blogosphere. Call it what you want. New Wave Complementarianism. Or a new wave washing over complementarianism. Or simply conservative evangelicals discussing the Bible and gender. In the end, I see it simply as an important conversation about Biblical Christianity when it comes to the ways we portray the interplay of two genders in Scripture created to reflect the image of God.

Just to be clear, despite the title of this post, I won’t be starting any movements anytime soon, and I didn’t start whatever movement lit fire these last weeks. Someone in a blog called it a brand new movement just born in the last month, but that isn’t what this conversation is at all. Really, it’s a bunch of men and women wrestling through very old words and ideas – particularly the interplay between the words biblical and womanhood (with an emphasis on the meaning of the word desire in Gen. 3:16). At least on my blog, we’ve been talking about this for years. I wrote my first article mentioning my own wrestling through some of these ideas back in 2008/2009. I got a lot of comments on those articles, and the conversation has continued for 4 or 5 years. Though I didn’t intend to spark a movement, I do very much hope there will continue to be movement on this subject. If nothing else, the unexpected response to my thoughts would seem to indicate this is an area of dissonance for many.

If something did get started the last few weeks that remains a part of the conversation long term, my conviction is that the Spirit, not me, started it through His Word. I’m reminded of the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5.

38 “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Now, I’m not likening myself or this “movement” to the spread of the early Church in Acts, but the principle that Gamaliel puts out in his fallen state still rings true with my belief system. If this discussion on the issue of gender roles is from God, then He’ll keep the conversation going for the good of His Church in providential ways.

I’ve heard two criticisms/concerns that I want to address.

1) This conversation presents a slippery slope toward compromise on gender issues. I’ve heard the slippery slope criticism for years about various things, such as that listening to Steve Green’s music, going to a conference by John Piper, or reading a theological book written by a Catholic priest may all lead to an ecumenism that disregards fundamental doctrines. The problem with the general slippery slope to compromise argument is that it seems, at least to me, to violate some principles long loved in the reformed church. I’m thinking particularly of Semper Reformanda – the Reformed Church is always reforming. I use that phrase as Dr. Michael Horton does in this article at Ligonier.

“…here is (the) whole phrase: ‘The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.’ The verb is passive: the church is not ‘always reforming,’ but is ‘always being reformed’ by the Spirit of God through the Word.”

The Spirit is regularly moving to realign the Church with the Word of God. The Church isn’t to reform according to culture but according to the Word. And it is good and healthy to remember that we all need to be constantly re-examining ourselves against the Word as the SPIRIT convicts. In my past experience, the “slippery slope” wasn’t toward compromise but toward correction in light of Scripture. And that’s a slope I need the Spirit to push me down quite often if the end result is greater conformity to the Word.

2) The other criticism I want to address is that I should have written more on Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2, rather than centering my points in last week’s article around woman created in the image of God in Genesis 1. As I read those criticisms, I remembered that often I have read much less of those of whom I am critical than those with whom I positively resonate. Perhaps that is the case with these criticisms as well, since they miss that I wrote extensively on both Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 in The Gospel-Centered Woman (reviewed at The Gospel Coalition here). Plus, I wrote an entire book on Ephesians, including THREE chapters on Ephesians 5:22-33 (reviewed at The Gospel Coalition here). I have written extensively on Genesis 2 on this blog and, all day every day, keep a link to an important post on Genesis 2 under the Posts that Struck a Nerve Heading. So I feel comfortable that I have comprehensively addressed both Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 with anyone who is a long time reader here. 

One thing that has continually disturbed me through the years I’ve been having informal conversations with various readers on this blog is the number of women who contact me privately over and over again with thanks to me for expressing what they DO NOT FEEL SAFE TO SAY in their context. They believe that they will be labeled as divisive, nagging gossips if they express their concerns. And, in my experience, that is a legitimate fear in SOME complementarian realms. Some leaders may be offended by that – “Well, I’m certainly a safe person for women to express their concerns to.” Maybe you are. But there are enough women who consider themselves complementarians expressing such concern for each of us to seriously consider whether our tone contributes to their discomfort being vocal in their context. Closer to home, it may benefit some leaders to sit down with women in their context and make clear that they can speak freely, that you NEED them to speak freely, and that you will not label them immature or divisive for expressing their concerns.

From this point on, I’m putting a personal moratorium (we’ll see how long that lasts) on using the word complementarian on this blog. I alienate readers when I use that word, and not because they are egalitarian. The average female reader of this blog is not wrapped up in the words complementarian and egalitarian, and those of us who get caught up in those words likely miss the heart of the majority of hurting women on the ground. Blogosphere debates don’t fit my idea of ministry, and I don’t think they meet the needs of the women to whom those of us who host such blogs most minister. My heart for women is summarized in The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel, and I didn’t use the word complementarian in it at all.

I will conclude this post as I did the one that stoked the low burning embers from the last few years into a roaring blaze. Perhaps after talking about complementarianism for a bit, we can all back off from conversations ABOUT gender and just go BE our genders, reflecting the character of our Creator as we are redeemed and restored to be like Him once more. That remains my heart on this issue.

17 Responses to Notes on Starting a Movement

  1. Jennifer May 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Yes! Thank you!

  2. Hannah Anderson May 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Precisely. Thanks for taking the time to articulate these things.

  3. Mara Reid May 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Wendy, I lean egalitarian but I go to a church that I would consider complementarian. It is a good church that gets so many of the important things right that I can fellowship with them easily because they don't focus on the debate, they focus on reaching people for Jesus, making NEW converts, not trying to steal them from other churches (won't get into that or why I said it right now).

    The point is, I am not a frothing at the mouth feminist. I feel no need to debate the issue with you because I see you engaged in the true ministry to the hurting and true understanding of the Word. The few points we may disagree on, I feel no need to hash them out with you. I respect your position and do not see it as harmful.

    I turn into what appears to be a frothing at the mouth feminist when I get in discusions with those who are determined to force their totalitarian view of hierarchy down my (or someone else's) throat and who claim that if we don't agree with them we are in rebellion to God.

    I appreciate you addressing the very real issues many in your camp either don't see or don't consider to be important.
    There ARE there. They ARE important. They NEED to be addressed.
    I respect your standing up and addressing them. I appreciate you being the voice of those who feel like they have no voice.

    (sorry this is long. Just felt I needed to say out loud, what I had been feeling since you first wrote your “new wave” post)

  4. Lisa May 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    I especially liked this, “Perhaps after talking about complementarianism for a bit, we can all back off from conversations ABOUT gender and just go BE our genders, reflecting the character of our Creator as we are redeemed and restored to be like Him once more.”

    I think so much of the debate on this and other divisive, tending toward legalistic, topics is that people are looking for a formula for success in life, i.e. just be this kind of wife and joy will be yours; if you homeschool, your kids will be Christians and contribute to society; if you have this kind of job; if you wear these kind of clothes…and it goes on and on. It's easier to live for a checklist developed by someone else than listen to the Spirit for each of our lives. And yes, it can look different for each of us and still be God-honoring, since He made us all unique.

  5. Beth Connell May 10, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    kind of bummed. I just found out about this stuff and I LOVE it and the discussion of it. I love the wording. I am sorry it is hard for some people though. I read all kinds of blogs, good ones bad ones, etc.. I love learning about “biblical womanhood” coming from a very charismatic/pentecostal background there were zero gender studies. we were all just a bunch of non genders jumping around speaking in tongues and throwing out who portions of scripture to make sure we didn't stop hoppin' .

  6. Anonymous May 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    I, too, respect you, Wendy. You are brave to speak out about your concerns and hopes. I appreciate your attempts to help some of us for whom this conversation is new better understand your position.

    My prayer is your voice continue to be heard and your influence multiplied.


  7. Rachael Starke May 10, 2013 at 4:09 pm #


    What's exciting to me is the way this dialog is revealing the need for exactly that kind of reforming that Horton describes. Several decades ago, the church reacted to something it perceived as a danger to orthodoxy, cobbled some ideas together, wrapped them up in an awkward name, and declared the discussion over. Now sufficient time has passed that we can see that those ideas are not nearly as cohesive, and we need to take a second look.

    I think the other big reason that second look is happening now is the welcome return to the gospel defining the center of all theology, and not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The presence of heavy amounts of MTD are a sign of an inherent flaw in the underlying doctrine, and as many of us have experienced, it is absolutely everywhere in resources and ministries targeted at women.

  8. Persis May 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Amen! As one of the women who was afraid to speak freely, I'm glad the conversation has started.

    Ditto to Rachael's observation about MTD. If the only solutions to the gender problem are behavioral changes to mold us into a 21st century first world ideal, we've missed the boat. The solution is the truth of the gospel coming to bear in all areas of our lives. This will look different in each situation, but the point isn't cookie-cutter conformity. The point is conformity to Christ.

  9. Hannah Anderson May 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Rachael said: “Several decades ago, the church reacted to something it perceived as a danger to orthodoxy, cobbled some ideas together, wrapped them up in an awkward name, and declared the discussion over. Now sufficient time has passed that we can see that those ideas are not nearly as cohesive, and we need to take a second look.”

    This is it PRECISELY!!!!!! Now try to put THAT on a t-shirt and sell it. 🙂

    Seriously though, gender is a wonderful good gift from God and one that we must celebrate but we are lacking a cohesive structure for understanding it. So happy for this process.

  10. Sallie @ A Woman's Freedom in Christ May 10, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    I started writing about these topics a few years ago on my blog, beginning with a series highlighting the problems and inconsistencies I saw within the complementarian movement. I had always been a very soft complementarian until my husband and I were aggressively pursued by patriarchalists on several fronts. This made us step back and really study the passages, including the critical background info. After a lot of study we realized we are basically egalitarians, but we can't bring ourselves to fully admit it because of the stigma attached.

    I lost literally hundreds of blog readers when I started posting those posts. I wasn't even calling myself a full-on egalitarian at the time. I was simply voicing doubt about the comp view and the poor ways I thought the problems were being handled by those in leadership in that area.

    I know why women won't speak out. I've experienced it first hand. I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are MANY women who are egalitarians but will not admit it publicly. Prominent women bloggers and authors. They will not admit to being egalitarian, but they are. They are too afraid of what it will cost them.

    I'm very conservative theologically. I prefer traditional worship. I believe strongly in the authority of the Scriptures and the power God's Word has in our lives. But I cannot fully embrace the comp view any longer so I find myself in a no man's land. I'm not liberal enough to fit into the more traditionally egalitarian denominations. And I will never again attend a strongly complementarian/patriarchal church. I simply cannot do it. Nor will I raise my daughter in a church environment where I have to deprogram her each week.

    We're currently in a CRC church where women can do everything except serve as elder and senior pastor. Women are very active and visible in every aspect of the church and service. I can live with that. But even then I think that the current overall view of what “church” is on Sunday is also off and so I find myself not truly satisfied there either. But that's another issue for another day. 🙂

    Thanks for letting me share. I hope more women will step out and share openly in the days ahead.

  11. Tamie May 11, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Wendy your humility and courage continue to be an inspiration.

  12. Wendy May 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Wow, Tamie. That means a lot. Thanks!

  13. Mara Reid May 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I have added you to my blog list because I feel that you want to honestly discuss the issues before us and aren't interested in cliches or pat answers.

    Plus, I need balance in my blog list.

    I have a couple blogs that I have added where the blog host was Christian when I added them. But now they aren't. One has gone pagan and the other either atheist or agnostic. I haven't pinned him down yet.

    Some would say… “Remove those who have changed since they no longer represent your view.”

    But I say, “These have been my brother and sister. And in some way may still be deep down as they struggle with the issues. These have had the living snot beaten out of them by totalitarian hierarchy doctrine and are bleeding and dying on the Jericho Road.” I'm not going to add another self-righteous rejection to the list of abuses that they have already endured at the hands of 'Christian' brothers and sisters carrying out 'Biblical' this or 'Biblical' that.

    You are on my blog list because you actually care for the walking wounded and don't have empty 'Biblical' words to dismiss them with.

  14. Teresa May 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    I appreciate your bringing this conversation to a wider audience, Wendy, and agree with this post.

  15. terriergal May 31, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    I hope you will post something about this issue on TGC despite the horrible stance taken by the founders there on this issue.

    This is a place where women should be unsubmissive and make history.

  16. Wendy May 31, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    I've posted at least 4 articles on it, two since I wrote this one.

  17. Wendy May 31, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    And submissiveness is a non-issue in such discussions.