Good enough?


This is a guest post written by Jean Kamps.

My grandfather says he is egalitarian in the church. That is, he believes and practices gender equality in the church. But in marriage, he says, he is complementarian. In marriage, he has a hang up on one word: respect.

Egalitarian: term for gender equality used in Christian theology and church practice 

Complementarian: term for gender disparity used in Christian theology and church practice, in particular describing a belief that female was “created for” male and is ordained by God as having a complementary or subordinate role to male 

I talked with him a long time about this. Several long times. He and I understand each other’s points of view, and he’s not convinced by me. I’m not sharing this to try to convince him. I’m sharing this to see if I can convince you. Can I prove to you that complementarian even in just a tiny little way is still not good enough?

Basically, for my grandfather it all comes back to Ephesians, back to that ONE place in the ENTIRE bible, that ONE word — respect. Wives, respect your husbands. In talking things through, my grandfather is not full of the inconsistencies I usually come across. He truly is egalitarian in every way but one: if there is an extreme circumstance where a decision HAS to be made right now and neither party can agree, then the husband has penile authority. (Not penal — penile. Yes, I’m talking about a penis. Because the husband has a penis to prove his gender hierarchy, he gets the final say.)

To me, this sounds like the same kind of rationale as the argument with guns, where the most unlikely, extenuating circumstance is pulled out to try and make me concede. Like, “If a person were about to shoot your kid, would you shoot them first? or would you let your kid be murdered?” as if that makes me more likely to say yes, I’d shoot, in which case they ‘win’ over guns. And if I don’t say yes then I sound like an evil parent. This argument for comp roles smacked of the same illogic.

I asked, “Okay, WHEN? When could this actually happen, that a decision is required instantly and neither husband nor wife can agree?” He could not come up with one. I’ve thought, and I can’t think of an instance, either.

And so I clarified. “For all intents and purposes, you’re egal. Women in ministry and leadership is fine. But if it comes down to crunch time, in marriage, you are the authority.”

Authority is the wrong word,” he countered.

“Okay, so what word should I use?”

He couldn’t think of one. He kept returning to the concept of male being a servant leader, wherein the husband is under a stronger mandate to love his wife in order to mirror Jesus’ love for us, and therefore has authority over his wife just as Jesus has authority over us.

So I asked, “Is it possible for a person to respect another person without being subject to them? Can a person be respected by another person without being in authority?” He conceded, yes.

“So, respect doesn’t of itself denote authority.” No.

“Does a man respecting a woman mean she has the control, or the authority?” No, he said. Of course not.

“Then why should it be the other way around?!”

This Egalitarian-everywhere-but-Complementary-at-home thing is just Benevolent Sexism packaged up in a neat little Ephesians wrapping paper. Again.

This is male trying to retain authority over female by claiming that the mandate to lay down his life for his wife, as Christ did for the church, somehow gives him an innate gender right.

It’s not a right. It’s not a God-ordained authority. It’s a sinful tendency to grasp power and control over other people. It’s the fall again, where we say “I’m like God! You shall fall in line and worship me!” but lying to ourselves that it’s okay because we’re being selfless. But selfishness and selflessness are not the same thing. That snake would like us to believe it, though.

These words were written for ALL. Male and female alike. Being egalitarian in every way but one is still not good enough.

Ephesians 5:21
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

This post first appeared on

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.

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