This is the third in a series of posts challenging the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender hierarchy/ binary teachings of Pastor Harvey Turner, Lead Pastor of Living Stones Church, Reno, Nevada. [Harvey is not alone in his teachings. Many conservative churches teach these principles, inclusive of members of the Acts 29 network, co-founded by now-shamed and fired Mark Driscoll.]
Wisely, it seems, rather than addressing transgender issues as had been planned in the last sermon of his series on “The Sex Doctrine,” Turner stayed within “safer” boundaries by discussing the importance of gender binaries — men exhibiting typically masculine traits, and women exhibiting typical feminine traits. Turner is not extreme in his restrictive gender teachings, sadly, this is typical inside conservative congregations. Aside from impeding the service roles of women in churches and homes, adherence to gender binaries and hierarchy frequently leads many conservative teachers and preachers to the next step of condemning transgender people (those whose biological sex does not match their internal sense of being masculine, or feminine, or those who place themselves somewhere along a gender spectrum).
Using Turner’s online notes for the upcoming sermon on sex and gender, I challenged his usage of Deuteronomy 22:5 as a biblical charge to live out biological sex “faithfully.” However the decision was made to not “go there” on the transgender issue in his March 13th sermon, I am thankful and count it as a win — a win that our community was not subjected to deeply flawed and damaging anti-trans ideology and rhetoric disguised as “God’s Word.”
Strict adherence to gender binaries limits both women and LGBT people
The concept of adherence to gender binaries (men exhibiting typically masculine traits and performing in “male” roles in church and home, and women exhibiting typical feminine traits and performing “female” roles in church and home) is called complementarianism, or complementarity.
It not only impacts women, but dictates the “need” for two genders operating in “separate but equal” roles. Inherently, of course, complementarity excludes same-sex marriages from Christian legitimacy. Likewise, gender complementarity automatically defines those who are transgender as living a life that is not “biblically faithful” to their birth sex.
Some background and information may offer clarity to these terms.
Patriarchy and gender hierarchy
Ancient cultures, obviously including those in which the Bible narrative was written, assigned a low value to women. Patriarchy is a system where men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Gender hierarchy assumed male dominance and female submission. Both systems pre-date Christianity and not surprisingly, these two structures have been firmly rooted in church history for millennia.
Conservative churches, Living Stones included, nuance the implication of “separate but equal” by claiming, “We are not hierarchical, we are complementarian.” While few church leaders would admit their current organizational structure operates under patriarchy and gender hierarchy, it might be advantageous to look more closely.
In its simplest form, complementarianism means two distinct parts coming together to form a more complete whole. The “need” for complementarity as a normative in Christian marriage is not an argument in itself; the usage of the term is inconsistent even within conservative circles.
When pressed, those who insist on a “necessity” of differences, are not in general agreement as to what needs to be different. There are three basic ways the word complementarity is used:
- the reuniting of two parts of the human—male and female—to form the complete Adam as he was before Eve was taken from his side,
- the coming together of two opposite genders for gender fittedness in both marriage and service in the church,
- and the coming together of male and female for anatomical (sexual) fittedness in marriage.
Pastor Turner states in his sermon that Living Stones is not patriarchal, not does it operate with gender hierarchy. Actually, he was offended when I suggested the presence of a hierarchical structure in his church, insisting, “I can assure you that we are not a hierarchal church. We are a complimentarian (sic) church.”
In his sermon, Turner told his congregation that complementarianism has operated for most of church history. That is not true; patriarchy and gender hierarchy have been the prevailing systems throughout church history and have been nuanced with the introduction of complementarity only recently in the past three decades .
So where does the word “complementarity” come from?
The roots of complementarity
By the mid-1980s, feminism from the American culture had made its way into conservative Christian circles. Women aspired to join the ranks of leaders, teachers, and preachers in church organizations, and they wanted more equality within the family structure. Regarded as “Christian feminists,” they began challenging the church’s entrenched systems of patriarchy and gender hierarchy.
At a 1987 joint conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a committee of evangelical and Southern Baptist leaders gathered in Danvers, Pennsylvania, to discuss the “problem.” In a thinly veiled attempt to “stop the spread of Biblical feminism,” the committee drew up the Danvers Statement, which affirmed:
“Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.”
The document not-so-subtly reinforced patriarchy and gender hierarchy, and softened the appearance of power structures by calling the “new” pattern “complementarity”—a word they invented to fit their purpose of dealing with Christian feminists. Complementarity asserts that only through men and women working together in churches and marriages, in separate but equal gender roles, are we are able to see the full image of God.
The committee members signed the document, complementarity was born, and took its place in Christian “tradition.” In the late 1990s, complementarity began to take on the added imperative of anatomical differences as yet another “God-ordained” requisite so that a couple might fully reflect the image of God in a marriage. According to ETS’s own white papers in the early 1990s, they anticipated an attempt by gays to participate in marriages, so they added anatomical differences to complementarity to fence LGBT people out of both civil and biblical unions.
I find it a bit amusing, when churches adamantly declare themselves to be complementarian and not hierarchical. Do they not understand their own broader church history? Complementarianism was and is just an attempt to put pearls on the patriarchy pig; it’s the same thing simply cleaned up with nuanced language making it more palatable to those who believe in equality.
Egalitarianism is a theological doctrine that states all people are equal before God, and there are no gender-based limitations of the gifts, callings, functions, or roles each person has. Each person is equally able and allowed to use these strengths in society, the church, and the home.
Biblical egalitarianism was first expressed in the early 1980s, which may make sense considering what we learned above about biblical feminism and the attempt by conservatives to control biblical feminism by introducing complementarity.
I value and respect the integrity of facts and history, so it really bugs me when people, in particular religious leaders, alter definitions and past historical accounts, or tell partial truths in hopes to support the restrictive lenses through which they interpret Scripture. Turner, in an effort to elevate complementarity over egalitarianism, said, in his sermon, complementarity has operated through most of church history. No. Patriarchy and gender hierarchy have formed the historical foundation of the Christian church, while complementarianism and egalitarianism have been competing views only since the 1980s.
Off-handed comments about those who support biblical egalitarianism as those who may not recognize the biological differences of males and females do not honor the core of the egalitarian desire for equality in service in the church and home. Rather, such comments attempt to elevate complementarianism as more “informed” and intuitive, and make egalitarianism look foolish.
Egalitarianism is not about body parts, it views gender-less limitations on roles, gifts, callings, and functions in the church and home.
The dangers of complementarianism and gender binaries to women and LGBT people
I unashamedly acknowledge that I am an egalitarian Christ-follower (none of this translate to an inability or lack of desire to submit to authority) who upholds the dictates of Galatians 3:28. The boundaries between Jew and Gentile, free and slave, and male and female will not exist in eternity and, in fact, are not to persist in the church on earth either, where we “are all one in Christ Jesus.” Complementarity and the restrictive gender binaries of male-female roles will not exist in the heavenly Kingdom of God.
Restrictive gender binaries place a mythical biblical imperative upon people that biological males should exhibit and operate within socially expected gender roles and traits, likewise, for females. Not only have these restrictions not been consistent across all cultures and historic periods, they do not honor the full spectrum of God’s diverse creation.
If indeed we are each the imago dei and the reflection of God, we foolishly impede our own ability to see a more full image of God when we restrict, reject, and push to the margins those who also possess His image in a way that is not within the normative.
The final two parts of Living Stones “Doctrine of Sex” (Homosexuality and Sex/Gender) series are wrought with misuse of Scripture and misrepresentation of information formed by the restrictive lenses of patriarchy and gender hierarchy.
Patriarchy and gender hierarchy, and the related pearls-on-a-pig-concept of complementarity, have constructed and reinforced a tradition that forces others to submit to restrictive teachings. The “others” are being judged and forced to comply with traditional teachings which they have had no voice in shaping.
It is time to honor into the Kingdom each person as the unique creation they are in the Kingdom.
To the large young community of believers at Living Stones, and to equality-focused Christians in general, if Bible passages are used to subjugate, marginalize, or exclude people from the Kingdom of God, especially those who are actively seeking inclusion such as LGBT Christians or women in leadership, you must look at the lenses and history through which the verses are interepreted. If this information resonates with your spirit, sensibilities, and relationships you have with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, and stifled women leaders, please stay in church, and help redeem the conservative church so that it may more accurately reflect the gifts, callings, functions, and roles of the whole of God’s diversity of His children — women and LGBT people.
You were never called to conform to the image of Adam or Eve. You are called to conform to the image of Christ.
I am not hopeful that this redemptive transformation is on the near horizon for Living Stones. If you want to participate in a truly more welcoming and inclusive community, try The Rock Church in Sparks. The worship style and community are similar to Living Stones, but non-oppressive to those who are marginalized, and those who love them.
I do not intend to “follow” the weekly teachings of Living Stones. I will however speak and write against teachings that harm and marginalize LGBT people, and LGBT Christians in particular.