I Care about Gender Hierarchy Because…


Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton

We established in my last blog post about this topic (which you will find helpful to read in conjunction with this one, if you haven’t already) that complementarian men have all the practical power in a relationship. What happens in relationships with unequal balances of power?

It’s very simple. Power corrupts. The more power you have, the more likely you are to become corrupt. Men in complementarian marriages have all the power. So complementarian husbands have a great potential to become corrupt.

Am I saying that all complementarian marriages and churches are abusive? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that the potential for abuse in complementarian marriages and churches is much higher than in homes where the spouses share equal power and responsibility. And I don’t mean only physical abuse. I am also talking about far more subtle psychological abuse. The number of complementarian families I have seen break up because of this issue is staggering. I am not saying that all complementarian men are abusive, not at all; I am saying that complementarian women are completely vulnerable to the men “in authority over them” in a way that egalitarian wives (and girlfriends and church members) are not. And complementarian men are vulnerable to corruption in a way that egalitarian men are not.

In an egalitarian marriage, which by definition rests on equal and mutual submission and respect, both partners are far less likely to tolerate abusive behavior. Most people exhibit some form of psychologically abusive behavior on occasion. If the other partner is able to confront the aggressor and help him (or her) identify the root of the problem and grow and mature, occasional psychologically abusive behavior does not twist the relationship into an abusive relationship. If abusive behavior continues, a person who is sure that he or she is not required by God to live in an abusive environment is much more likely to leave.

If however, the abusive behavior is done to a person who feels she must submit no matter what, who is told to repent more or pray for her husband or respect him better rather than risk that he will feel disrespected by a confrontation, if she believes that he has a right to make decisions about her, her life and her children that she strongly disagrees with, if she believes that confrontation and demanding respectful treatment verges on “leadership” — that thing which she must avoid at all costs; and if the husband believes that what he says ultimately goes, that he has the right to have the final say all the decisions in the house — if he believes that he ultimately knows best because he has a special ability to hear from the Holy Spirit that the rest of his family does not have (which I kid you not is an actual quote by a complementarian husband and father that I used to know) — then the man is utterly unchallenged. He is unchallenge-able by anyone in his home. He has no counterbalance. The relationship can very easily swing into an abusive relationship. I have seen this *countless* times in complementarian relationships.

It’s easy to see the fruit of this thinking in our churches. We are failing our girls and women when we have leaders engaging in serious victim blaming in an attempt to protect the men/abusers, such as when a pastor says that it’s the woman’s fault that she becomes a victim if she won’t shut up and obey, or when a woman is subject to church discipline because she will not continue to be married to a consumer of child pornography or when a young girl is expected to apologize to the wife of the youth pastor who raped her (as if SHE is somehow to blame for being raped) or when an extremely influential pastor (John Piper) says that women should be willing to endure a season of abuse if the abuse is “simply hurting her”

Men ruling over women is the literal curse of woman. Complementarian thinking brings the curse into our churches and homes and says, “This is the way God wants it.” It’s a terrible lie that bears rotten fruit in this world. Complementarianism sets the perfect conditions for abuse to flourish in Jesus’ name. And that is why I care so much. 

Because Jesus broke the curse and freed us, men and women, from having to live this way. It is for freedom that He has set us free! We are all to live in submission to each other! We are to follow the example of our Savior and leave our positions of power and lay our lives down for each other in humility and deep love. We are to break the chains of oppression and set the captives free!


Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

3 thoughts on “I Care about Gender Hierarchy Because…

  1. Thank you for this. My wife and I came out of the shadow of Douglas Wilson only a few years ago, and prior to meeting each other, both of us almost entered into marriages that would’ve been less than ideal due to the pressures of a very complimentarian church.

    My wife was engaged to a man who became spiritually and physically abusive soon after the engagement, and called it off only days before the wedding because she had no voice.

    I was almost engaged to a woman 11 years my junior (fresh out of highschool), and after four weeks of “courtship” I knew she wasn’t happy around me. And yet, her father kept talking about an engagement, and the two of us continued courting for another two weeks (after which I was expected to propose) until I finally worked up the nerve to call it off. I know for a fact she would’ve married me if I hadn’t.

    I think it’s also worth considering that not all guys in complimentarian churches truly feel comfortable in such relationships. Some wear complementarianism like a poorly tailored suit just to fit in and others, like myself, quietly slip away from it. My wife and I talked the talk, but thank God we didn’t walk that walk. And soon we left those circles altogether (which was a long and abusive experience that I won’t go into here).


    1. Oh my goodness! What a story! I’m so glad you escaped that. 😦

      One of my next posts will be about how complementarianism hurts men. I think my husband felt as much relief when we discovered egalitarianism as I did. I love your picture of a poorly tailored suit. Very apt.

      If you would ever like to contribute a post about your experience and your perspective, please let me know. We love guest posts here!


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