Complementarianism is the idea held in some faiths that men and women play different, complementary roles in life, society and – particularly – religious practice.
Rather than regarding women as essentially inferior or incapable of leading, women are regarded as “equal”. This view is a way of interpreting patriarchal religious doctrines and reconciling their authority with modern sensibilities.
Within Christianity, some texts in the New Testament have been cited to deny women the right to be priests and pastors for much of its history. One of these is found in 1 Timothy 2:12:
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
Another text often cited as evidence that women should not be in leadership roles in churches is found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:
Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
However, complementarian approaches are highly controversial within global Christianity. Even those who believe men and women do have innately different roles have very different ideas about what that means. Can women preach? Or take leadership roles? Should they be submissive to their husbands?
According to Mary Kassian, who claims to have helped coin the term, Christian complementarians believe that men and women must exercise different functions:
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, […] 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.
Therefore, it is argued – in most Sydney Anglican churches, for example – that women should not lead in religious communities because they have complementary, non-leadership, roles.
Such a view is promoted by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which was established in 1987. The controversial American preacher Mark Driscoll has been a strong advocate of complementarianism, as are prominent US-based evangelical theologians John Piper and Tim Keller.