Complementarianism: A Primer

Mary Kassian, “Complementarianism for Dummies,” Girls Gone Wise Blog (July 3, 2012)

Kassian has been a part of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood from the beginning. The term used in her title was first coined in the late 1980s to refer to the position that was neither traditional nor egalitarian. Those new words are defined, and they can be very helpful to use in the discussion so you can use a word that conveys a large doctrinal foundation of meaning.

But over time, some (most!) of those words take on extra meanings or connotations, both from proponents of and those who disagree with the position, otherwise known as baggage. There has been some talk of the need to retitle this position or to come up with a new word that accurately reflects the doctrinal meaning behind the word. I would not be opposed to that if some of the extra baggage associated with the word (or position) would no longer be associated with the position. But if that were to be done, it would be important to understand the history behind the term. This is what Kassian has done in this article.


Though the concept of male-female complementarity is present from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different. The need for such a label arose in response to the proposition that equality means role-interchangeability (egalitarianism)—a concept that was first forwarded and popularized in Evangelical circles in the 1970s and 80s by “Biblical Feminists.”

In this brief explanation “for Dummies,” Kassian lays out the position stating contrasts in what it is, and what it is not. Her fifth and final point is the heart of what complementarianism is.

  1. It’s complementary . . . NOT complimentary.
  2. June Cleaver is so fifties and so NOT the definition of complementarity.
  3. A proletariat-bourgeois-type hierarchy has no place in complementarity.
  4. Complementarity does not condone the patriarchal, societal oppression of women.
  5. Complementarians believe that God designed male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.

Here is Kassian’s further description under her fifth point of what complementarianism means:

Essentially, a complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus. That’s the bottom-line meaning of the word. Complementarians believe that males were designed to shine the spotlight on Christ’s relationship to the church (and the LORD God’s relationship to Christ) in a way that females cannot, and that females were designed to shine the spotlight on the Church’s relationship to Christ (and Christ’s relationship to the LORD God) in a way that males cannot. Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us. It’s about testifying to the story of Jesus. We do not get to dictate what manhood and womanhood are all about. Our Creator does. That’s the basis of complementarianism.

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