Fake News: Complementarianism and Disinformation

In our age of rapid, digital communication, “fake news” is as common as ever. As we’ve seen, disinformation regarding complementarianism abounds, whether those arguments are theological, historical, or moral. May we not be fooled by such claims. Rather, let us be like Bereans, testing to see if these things are so.

Donald Trump made the idea of “fake news” famous. Some reports say he used the term around 2,000 times during his tenure as president of the United States. According to Trump, news outlets proliferated lies and sowed false information to tear him down and hinder his work.

Fake news or disinformation is nothing new, however. For years, it has been used by governments to spread false ideas and promote narratives as well as by military units to mislead the enemy with false tactics. This disinformation served their purposes and aimed to help them win elections and war(s).

This spread of disinformation is not limited to government and military tactics. Sadly, it is a regular occurrence in the world of theology as well. Whether perpetuated ignorantly or purposefully and willfully, this disinformation poses great danger to the church today. Where do we see such “fake news”? Oftentimes, it comes in the form of an argument against a position that has been unfairly represented. For a recent example, see Randy Davis’s recent criticism of the Law Amendment in the Southern Baptist Convention. As Denny Burk helpfully points out, two out of Davis’s three objections are based on arguments that simply aren’t true.

What I’m concerned about here is not Donald Trump nor the Law Amendment in particular, but rather the spread of disinformation as it relates to complementarianism more broadly—the nature and roles of men and women. And this information doesn’t come merely from the outside of the camp. Instead, disinformation about complementarity is pasted on Twitter, promoted on Facebook, and spread via blog posts and magazine articles at an increasingly high rate from outside and inside the complementarian camp.

I can think of several categories of disinformation when it comes to complementarity: theological disinformation, historical disinformation, and moral disinformation. I’m sure others could add more. In this article, I will examine claims from each of these categories, demonstrating how they all fail to accurately describe the complementarian argument.

Theological Disinformation

Theologically, we have false ideas about complementarianism making their way around the internet, into books and articles, and into personal conversations. Two wrongheaded and unfounded biblical and pastoral-theological errors seem common.

First, some argue that complementarianism is built on a handful of passages. This narrative aims to convince readers that the theological position is built on shaky foundations. And, it suggests by contrast that egalitarianism is more faithful to the grand sweep of Scripture. For example, Jennifer Bradshaw writes, “Complementarians base their theology on a few passages in Genesis and select verses from some New Testament epistles.”[1] Well, to borrow from our ex-President: “fake news!”

Now, this brief article isn’t the place to outline all the passages complementarians use to build their theological house. Instead, If you want proof that the complementarity position is built with lots of biblical bricks, read the various iterations of Eikon, the theological journal from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Notice the dozens of theological arguments, exegetical insights, and massive volume of biblical-theological thinking that’s at the bottom of complementarity. Or, pick up Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Wayne Grudem and John Piper. You don’t have to agree with them to acknowledge that the authors in that book lean into the whole Bible to make their case. Simply turn to the Scripture index. It runs over seven pages and lists dozens and dozens of passages from both the Old and New Testaments. Are there key passages in this debate? Sure. But admitting there are key passages is a far cry from relying on or basing a theological position “on a few passages.”

Second, some want to make it seem as though complementarians are simply interested in barring women from ministry in the church overall. That is, some egalitarians erroneously say complementarians believe that only men should have ministries of any type in a local congregation. Consider Jennifer Bradshaw again. When she outlines the basic components of the complementarian position, it doesn’t take long for her to go off course. Here is what she writes:

Simply defined, complementarianism argues the following points (claiming, of course, that these are the “Biblical” view):

  1. that men and women were created in God’s image, equal in worth, but that they were created for different roles;
  2. that men are the leaders (or heads) in the home and the church and women are helpers to men, created to raise children and tend to the home; and
  3. that leadership roles in churches, especially the office of senior pastor, are prohibited for women—women are not gifted or meant for leadership in the Church.[2]

She starts strong. As a complementarian, I agree with point 1. Point 2 states some true things, though her agenda starts to bleed through (raise children and tend the home are reductionistic. Yet, the rhetoric is meant to score an emotional point, it seems). Point 3, however, is either disingenuous or simply ignorant. She uses the broad idea of “leadership roles in the churches” to suggest complementarians bar women from any form of church leadership. When she does this, she specifically broadens the prohibition of female leadership beyond the bounds of the “senior pastor.” According to her view, complementarians bar women from “leadership in the Church” (a broad concept) that is “especially” applied narrowly to the “senior pastor” position. So, no leadership in the church at all…including senior pastorates. Well, again, fake news.

Read More

Previous ArticleNext Article