The Equal But Different Hoax
One of the best known slogans of the Complementarian movement is, “Equal but different” meaning, men and women have equal worth but different God ordained roles in the home, church (1) and some even believe in society as well (2).
This slogan is used with the intent of conveying equal value in both sexes while still upholding a hierarchy between men and women, in which men “lovingly lead” and women “joyfully submit” to that leadership.
While this may sound good on the surface it turns out to be a deceptive slight of hand otherwise known as a False Equation fallacy (3). One sex cannot have the same intrinsic equality or value as another if that sex has an ontological need (4) to be led, decided for, directed by and subject to another sex. This power and control ideology, however benevolent it may or may not be, is a form of sexism. (5)
We would be appalled if a church leader or theologian suggested black, hispanic or asian people have equal value but have an ontological need to be lead by, decided for and directed by white people. We would say, “No! It is not possible for all people to have the same value if one group of people is born to lead, decide or direct while another is born to unilaterally submit, yield to and follow the other. This is not logical. This is not just. This is racism!”
In the same way we should be disturbed when it is suggested that those absent of male genitals must unilaterally submit and defer to those with. When we try to suggest that Complementarianism is anything different than veiled male privilege, at best we are being fooled ourselves and at worse purposefully deceiving others.
And for the record… that whole thing about thing about black, hispanic, asian and white people? Yah, that really happened (it still happens, actually). “Equal but separate” was a race segregation slogan first (6), before Complementarians took it over. Many of the strongest supporters of segregation were church leaders who used the Bible to insist upon equal but different/separate racism (7).
Notes and Sources:
I agree that there are some differences between men and women just as there are between ethnically diverse people groups but certainly not any differences that would make one sex (or race) more fit to lead the other. Check out this study of brain similarities in men and women: Sex Beyond The Genitalia It turns out that there is really no way to segregate male and female brains by sex. In addition here are some scholarly thoughts on biblical equality by Marg Mowczko.
(1) See, The Danvers Statement.
(2) John Piper, “Should Women Be Police Officers?”
(3) This is an entirely necessary piece on The False Equation Fallacy of equal but separate by Kristen Rosser.
(4) UPDATED: I was asked to add sources with Complementarians assuming ontology determines fitness for leadership (authority):
“1 Pet. 3:7a – While the second half of this verse stresses the equal honor accorded to women along with men (as fellow-heirs of the grace of life), the first half of the verse clearly indicates the fundamental gender difference between a husband and his wife. She, according to Peter, is a “weaker vessel,” and she needs to be treated with tenderness and understanding as such. This implies that 1) while she is fully equal in essence (3:7b), she likewise is constitutionally different from him as a woman (3:7a), and 2) the husband bears particular God-sanctioned responsibility to care for his wife, indicating his leadership and primary responsibility in their relationship.” -The Counsel for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
This is how I understand this statment: they say the woman has equal worth but because she is a woman she is by nature weaker and therefor because she is a weak woman she is in need of leadership and for the man to have the primary responsibility in the relationship. Her nature (inherent weakness) as a woman is tied to her need to be led by a man (for a man to have authority over her).
“…when a woman begins over time to assume an authoritative teaching role in your [male] life the manhood of a man and the womanhood of a woman is compromised.” In this video John Piper goes on to say that he could not only give biblical reason but ALSO psychological reasons why this would be unhealthy for a man.
I take this to mean that Piper believes authoritative positions are tied to the very ontology or essence of manhood and womanhood.
(5) Merriam-Webster, “Sexism: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women 2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
(6) Equal but Separate, Jim Crow Laws.
(7) Interestingly enough The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., split over racial disputes with northern Baptist churches and has since issued an apology for their racist roots. Though the SBC may have left it’s racial ideology of equal but separate, they seem to have recycled the term and remain staunchly in support of equal but separate roles in regards to sex.