Do Some Complementarians deny women opportunities?
On John Piper’s website is posted a question that someone asked of him about the application of complementarianism that affects women. The question is:
Do you think complementarianism is so important to some people that they deny women more opportunities than the Bible denies them?
I was shocked at John Piper’s response. You really need to listen to it for yourself. Click on the link above to hear an audio version or see the video clip.
Below is an edited transcript of the audio from the Desiring God website and below that are my comments. I welcome your comments and discussion on this important question.
John Piper’s Answer:
That does happen. But the problem there is not that complementarianism is important, but it’s that they don’t understand it.
You can’t say, “Here’s a truth, and that truth is so important it distorts the implementation of the truth.” Because if you implement it the wrong way, it’s not the truth anymore. It’s not what we’re saying.
I dealt with a couple one time. They were sitting in front of me, and she said, “He learned from you that I have to get permission from him for everything I do.” I said, “Really? Like what?” And she said, “To go to the bathroom! He won’t let me leave the room without his permission. If I get up and walk out of the room, he says, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to ask me first.'”
That’s not because the man values complementarianism. That’s not complementarianism. That’s sick! So we do deny women things that we shouldn’t deny them, if we’re sick.
Now the person asking this question is probably not going there. They’re probably thinking, “In the church, what kinds of ministries might a woman do?”
And my answer would be that it’s a delicate thing when you’re not dealing with the clear, black-and-white issues of elder and non-elder. I mean, I think it’s clear in the Bible that women should not be the elders of the church, the spiritual leaders of the church.
What kind of Sunday school classes they teach, what ages of boys they teach—those are ambiguities, and I’m sure there are people who make unwise decisions at that point in the restriction of women. Or the woman could carry on a speaking ministry among women, and some men begin to gravitate into those things. I mean, things like that.
So the answer would be, clearly, Yes, there are people who would draw lines in places that they shouldn’t be drawn. And we should just be constantly sensitive to what is the wise and loving application of the biblical clarity that we have for these situations. And we’re going to probably make different judgments about that.
© Desiring God
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
The one thing that struck me about this audio that I found odd is John Piper’s laughter on such a serious topic. I also was struck with his admitting that complementarianism is not understood by many complementarians. I think that is an understatement. Apparently, it must not be as “clear” in the Bible as some would like to make it out to be. Piper says that if you implement complementarianism the wrong way, then it isn’t truth anymore. Who can see the problem with this?
It is a fact that no scripture teaches a complementarian how to implement complementarianism’s kingly authority. In strict complementarian churches, the men are prepared to take over the “role” of authority in the home (and in the church), and it is the husband’s decisions that must be followed. The husband is given the ability to override his wife’s will so who or what can override his authority in the marriage? When this kind of authority is given to a man, his implementation of that authority would have to be considered his business. Those who try to “rescue” the wife from his rulership would be interlopers in the marriage. Who can “usurp” the authority of the priest-king of the marriage? This kind of unilateral authority that is clearly not taught in the scriptures is a ripe playing field for a man who wants to be God’s unique representative on the earth with full rights and powers to have his kingly way. The fact that he can claim he is acting in her best interest (because apparently, she doesn’t know what is good for her own self) removes him from having to accept any interference from outsiders in his kingdom of the home and marriage.
How appealing it must be to some men to know that they can expect their wives to support them without question as God has entrusted them as one of the special “first creation” kind who have been gifted with all the benefits of the rulership and decision-making power in their marriage. What does it matter if he has to go against her will when he has been especially chosen by God because of his gender (not his godliness), and he has been taught by the church to model the Father’s will that apparently overrides even the will of the Son? (For a refutation of the subordination of the Son doctrine see my DVD “The Trinity Eternity Past to Eternity Future“). Do you see the opportunity for misuse of authority and abuse of his wife as a fellow heir in Christ?
John Piper relates the story of a couple where the husband has implemented his authoritarian rule apparently after the privileges he has learned from John Piper. The fact that this husband would not let his wife leave the room without his permission shows that he truly believed he knew what was best for his wife. John Piper says that this behavior is not because the man values complementarianism. He calls this “sick.” He then says that some deny women things that the Bible doesn’t deny them.
The problem with this is that the very heart of complementarianism is the authority of the man. If a man believes that denying his wife her freedom to live her life with freedom of choice because it is the best way for her, then the complementarian model has no help from the scripture since there is no indication of a rulership program there. There are no limits set in the scripture to the rulership of a man in marriage because there was no rulership given to him by God. One and only one verse taken out of its context of the sin and shame of the man who brought rebellion against God into the world, and it is that one verse in Genesis 3 that is used to justify the man’s “dominion” of the marriage that results in a man living out that dominion by approving or denying every action that his wife takes.
John Piper’s answer is that it is a “delicate” thing when not dealing with the “clear” issue of Elder. He then lists some of the “delicate” issues that have no apparent “clear” answer. The question that we all need to ask ourselves is why God hasn’t made this a “clear” issue. How come there are so many gray areas that are supposedly “unclear” whether it is a sin or not for a woman to do certain things? As I listen to John Piper speak, I can hear in my mind the sound of a bungled bugle.
1 Cor 14:7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
1 Cor 14:8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
1 Cor 14:9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
If there ever were an “indistinct sound,” this would be what it sounds like. There are no loud bugle notes to say “Look here – this is sin.” The warbling, indistinct sound of men everywhere trying to implement complementarianism without a law book that tells them what is right or wrong for their wife to do in her limited “role” as a helper or her limited “role” as a children’s and perhaps into-the-teens teacher is deafening in its indistinct sounds. It is no wonder that churches everywhere inundate CBMW (The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) with questions each year on what is “permitted” for women to do and what is restricted. Hundreds of questions regarding things as diverse as a woman ushering to a woman giving directions to a man, have come into CBMW (apparently these are the modern interpreters of the law) should really produce another Talmud of gigantic Pharisaical proportions to strain out the gnat and separate the hairs of what an “equal” can and cannot do.
John Piper admits that there are “ambiguities” and that he is “sure” people make “unwise decisions” in their restriction of women. After all, what is a woman to do when men start gravitating towards her Sunday school room when she is teaching the bible? Does she kick them out of her class, stop her godly teaching, or continue to teach? What is sin and what isn’t sin?
If women are “equals” with a man spiritually, then what biblical spiritual restrictions are there on men? When does a man who is a godly Christian man go from servant of God to sinner just because of who walks into his Bible class? The fallacy of “equal but different” is never so blatantly false as when complementarians like John Piper try to talk about the “ambiguities.” The fact is that they teach “unequal and different” while the Bible teaches “fellow heirs.”
Piper ends his answer by saying that, yes there are some people who will “draw lines” (that means restrictions) where they shouldn’t draw lines. What is his solution? We should be sensitive to what is the wise, loving application of the biblical “clarity” that we have for these situations. That is amazing since he just said that there are “ambiguities” here so how did it now become “clarity”? And how does counseling someone to be sensitive work for a man who believes his kingly right is to make all the decisions for his wife?
Will John Piper write a handbook to help men to decide on all the “ambiguities”? Perhaps. After all, he says that we can make “different judgments” on “biblical clarity.” But some of these judgments are wrong, he also says. So what is right? I sense that he is unsure himself. When one tries to implement a kingdom rulership for men that the Scripture never gives to them there will always be “unclear” and unsafe sounds coming from that bugle.