ORLANDO, Fla. (ABP) — Video of an evangelical women's-rights convention that this summer demanded an apology for teaching deemed harmful to women is now available on the Internet.
Held July 24 in Orlando, Fla., the gathering of a small group calling itself the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition denounced "complementarian" teaching popular among well-known evangelical leaders like author John Piper and Southern Baptist seminary presidents Al Mohler and Paige Patterson.
Named after a women's-rights meeting in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., the Seneca Falls 2 convention targeted a group called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that teaches men and women are equal before God but created for different roles.
"What we are doing today is … promoting the gospel," Andersen said. "When you've got half of the body of Christ being told you can't preach the gospel, you can't pastor a church, what's happening to the gospel? Is it being hindered? Who's hindering it? It's not the Holy Spirit."
Andersen, whose most recent book draws parallels between the women's-rights and abolition movements of the 19th century, labeled the notion that husbands are by design to lead and wives to follow, "a slaveholding Christianity" that refuses to acknowledge the "functional equality" between males and females in the church and home.
Shirley Taylor, another conference organizer and founder of Baptist Women for Equality, said the problem with complementarian teaching is that "it sets men above women."
"It gives men almost godlike powers in the home and in the church while holding women to certain roles which they decided that she is fit for," Taylor said. "The Bible doesn't tell women that their role is to bake cookies and clean house. I haven't found that scripture. Have any of you found that scripture?"
Taylor, a former employee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas who still considers herself a Southern Baptist, said she doesn't want to be a preacher or even a deacon. "I want to be able to walk into my church and not feel that my church holds it against me because I am a woman," she said.
Cynthia Kunsman, a registered nurse who blogs about spiritual abuse, said she formerly held complementarian views, but she wasn't familiar with the term until she discovered it while researching information on the roots of "some problematic theology" called biblical patriarchy.
"There is a movement within homeschooling and fundamentalist Christianity where men are seen as the center of the universe, basically, of their families, and everyone in the family is to revolve around this patriarch and to serve his vision," Kunsman said.
Kunsman said she inadvertently found herself at odds with powerful leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention after she was invited by an apologetics ministry to talk about patriarchy at a meeting held on the campus of a Southern Baptist seminary.
"I've just recently repented of being a complementarian, because it has taken me three years of study to understand what these doctrines mean," Kunsman said of the ensuing controversy, during which she said she was accused, among other things, of being a lesbian.
"It sounds very lovely just looking at the veneer — men and women complement one another, that they are different but equal," Kunsman said. "But what they teach does not tell us that, and it is so divisive that you have to study for three years and read a hundred documents to understand what is going on."
Critics of complementarianism say it creates an imbalance of power that lays groundwork for potential spousal abuse. Defenders say the opposite is true, that rightly understood the doctrine calls on men to protect and provide for their wives and children by exercising "servant leadership" in the home.
Waneta Dawn, author of Behind the Hedge, a 2007 novel about a family's struggles with application of biblical authority and submission, said her own marriage to a complementarian husband was characterized by "verbal violence" and a church that told her it was something she must simply endure.
Dawn said by assigning absolute control and authority to husbands "they are given permission" to behave in unkind ways toward their spouses.
"When the husband is given that authority, he is the one who decides what role each person plays, who does what," she said, "whether she will wash the dishes or whether he will wash the dishes; if he will clean the bathroom or whether she will; if he will mow the lawn, or whoever will do what."
"He makes those decisions," Dawn said. "She has no say in it. He also decides what the rules are — whether we spank the children or we don't, whether we homeschool them or we don't. She has no say in that…. He also decides who has value. He decides he's worth a hundred bucks an hour and she's worth minimum wage, and he acts like it."
"There's no way a marriage can survive that kind of disrespect," said Dawn, whose marriage eventually ended in divorce.
Doug Phillips, pastor of Oleander Church of God in Fort Pierce, Fla., said using selected passages written by Paul to prevent women from leadership in the church fails to distinguish between "Paul's establishment of biblical principles" and specific cases that Paul dealt with that are "lifted out of an antiquated social context."
Phillips said Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth — that women are to sit separately form men, dress modestly including covering their heads with veils and to learn in silence — were written in a society where men were accustomed to pagan fertility cults mediated by temple prostitutes.
"We are totally divorced from that kind of historical and social context," Phillips said. "We have no idea what that means. You don't see him telling anybody else anywhere to cover up and wear veils and all that stuff. He was dealing with a special situation."
Phillips said it is "just wrong" to apply social and cultural situations that are no longer relevant to the treatment of people in the 21st century.
"It's part of the system of the world, and the Bible is clear on this," Phillips said, "that the person that is in charge of the systems of the world is the devil."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.