The Incomplete Gospel of Biblical Womanhood

Kate Wallace Nunneley


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The weekend was coming to a close.

It had been a challenging and uplifting conference, packed with Christians and non-Christians with many different view points. At dinner time, I quickly grabbed my food and searched for an empty seat. Two young men found their places next to me. We introduced ourselves and they told me that they were both on the pastoral staff of a large church in the States. This led to a conversation about where they went to seminary and, eventually, why they chose the largely conservative school that they did. One of them explained,

“Given the growing problems of the Church, I decided to attend a seminary that taught good theology to those who should be in leadership. You know, godly men who know right from wrong.”

Noticing the curious look on my face, he went on.

“I’m not sure if you are aware, but many churches are teaching that it is acceptable for women to take on leadership roles. So, I chose my seminary because it was the first one to teach the important message of what is called ‘biblical manhood and womanhood’. You’re probably not familiar with what that means…”

After he explained gender roles in his own words, he finished with, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said all that … well, you don’t look like a feminist so I guess it’s ok.”

Now, I have to say that this young man was very nice, despite the fact that he thought it was appropriate to tell a random woman that he doesn’t think her fit to do his own job. I actually did appreciate hearing about his views, because I don’t normally hear them explained thoroughly by people who are not popular pastors. But, with his last comment, I couldn’t help myself.

“I have a question for you,” I said honestly. “This idea of ‘biblical womanhood’ seems to apply only to married women with children, who have the financial ability to stay home with their kids. I am a single Christian woman who is working to support myself. What does the biblical womanhood message say to someone like me?

Now this was a question I had been wondering about for a long time, so I was actually very excited to be able to hear an honest answer. He thought about it for a little while and replied, “Well, it says that the best plan for your life is to find a good Christian man who will lead your family and provide enough that you can stay home.”

So the “biblical womanhood” message says that a single woman is not living the best Christian life because she is not married.

I pushed his line of thinking farther. “And what about women who are married, but are poor or who are simply not wealthy enough to stay home? What does the ‘biblical womanhood’ message say to them?”

His answer came quicker this time. “That they are not in the most ideal situation, and that their husband is failing them because they aren’t able to stay home with their kids,” he replied.

So the “biblical womanhood” message says that poor, working, married women are not living the ideal Christian life because their husbands don’t make enough money.

I pushed a little farther. “And what about married women who cannot have children?”

This thought caught him a bit off guard. “I’m not sure,” he said, “I guess they don’t really fit the mold.”

So, the “biblical womanhood” message tells women who are not able to have children, that they do not fully fit into what it means to be a Christian woman.

I appreciated his honesty. After thanking him for talking with me, I explained that I was an egalitarian. He told me he would think about what I had said. We changed the subject and finished our meal.

I have thought about that conversation many times over the last year.

It comes to my mind almost every time I hear a popular patriarchal/complementarian pastor remind women of “their place”. It pops up in my memory every time I read a blog praising the traditional homemaker for doing her womanly “duty”. I think about that conversation when I hear people referencing “true womanhood” and “biblical womanhood”.

What about the women whose lives look different? What about the women who don’t fit?

When I hear the “biblical womanhood” message, I worry that such a gendered gospel takes away from the meaning of what Christ actually did on the cross. The Bible doesn’t have one gospel for men and another for women, so why do we teach about scripture as if it did?

Being single in the Church is hard enough.

Many in the Church have elevated the nuclear family so much that singles hardly have a space in Christian community anymore. Add on the fact that, if you are a single woman you aren’t considered to be a true “biblical woman,” and walking into a church without a husband feels like walking into a country club wearing jeans:

You shouldn’t be here looking like that.

Don’t you know the rules?

I am a single, educated, working, Christian woman, and the “biblical womanhood” message doesn’t really apply to my life. I simply don’t fit into the patriarchal/complementarian teaching of what a woman should be. I may fit better in the future, if I get married and have kids, but what if my life doesn’t take that path? What if I am unable to have kids? What if I’m poor? What if my future husband leaves me? What if I remain single?

“Gospel” or “American Dream” ?

As I learn more and more about the “biblical manhood and womanhood” movement, I can’t help but think that it sounds more like the American dream than the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus taught about. This patriarchal/complementarian message seems to apply best to people whose lives are “successful” in the 1950s, American, social definition of that word; people with a spouse, 2.5 kids, and a savings account. But when I read scripture, I find no basis for this “biblical womanhood” gospel. What I do find is Jesus saying that it is ok that I don’t fit in:

Because in His Kingdom, the poor are called blessed.

Because in His Kingdom, those without food are filled.

Because in eternity, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage.

The Gospel isn’t supposed to reflect the American dream. It isn’t supposed to apply better to wealthy, healthy, married people with children than to the rest of us.

Our example of Christian living is a poor, single, Jewish, carpenter-turned-preacher, who walked away from the conventional in order to preach the unconventional, who gave up authority in order to be the servant of all, who surrounded Himself with women and men, rich and poor, married and single, educated and uneducated, and who died for them all.

As a single woman in the Christian Church, I have a choice. I could strive to fulfill the patriarchal message of “biblical womanhood.” I could make finding a spouse a priority, put myself under my future husband’s authority, follow his lead, have babies, and stay at home.

Or I could acknowledge that I don’t know the whole of God’s plan for me. I could strive to walk each day by faith. I could stay under Christ’s authority and follow His lead. I could learn to serve God and love others, no matter where my life takes me; as a stay at home mom, as a member of the workplace, as a preacher, as a writer, as a wife, or as a single Christian woman.

I don’t know what God has in store for my life, but I know from reading scripture that there is more than just one example of what it means to be a woman. I know that Jesus defended women who chose to be unconventional. I know that we are never called to be “biblical women” and “biblical men”, but to make disciples of all nations.

Scripture never promises us that we will get married and have kids. It never promises us that we will be wealthy or well fed. But the Good News is that, no matter who you are and no matter what your life looks like, Jesus died for you, and that He rose again!

That is the Gospel I choose to build my life around.

That is the Gospel I choose to tell others.

That is why I do not buy into the “biblical womanhood” gospel, and why I cannot be a part of that movement – because it preaches a “to do list” instead of freedom; because it is gendered when scripture is not; because it demands uniformity instead of celebrating diversity; because it elevates married life over single life; because it doesn’t apply to everyone.


If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I recommend Rachel Held Evans’ “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” and “Discovering Biblical Equality” by Pierce, Groothuis, and Fee.

*Note: The definition of “biblical womanhood” that is assumed in this blog is the one laid out in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. This post also takes into account the more popular interpretation of Piper and Grudem’s teaching as seen in the “True Woman” movement and the more general “biblical womanhood” movement.

Photo Credit:

Kate Wallace Nunneley

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  • I liked your post. I’m just a teenager and my church never preached this thing called ‘biblical womanhood’. However, once I heard a pastor saying that a significant part of gender violence in my country is commited by evangelical men. This sexist perspective contributes for that and it’s very disrespectful when I hear that women are secondary or something. It is common to hear ‘women are not inferior, they just were made to be stay-at-home moms and care for the next generation’. Btw, nice blog.

  • Hi Kate! I really appreciate the work that you are doing here at Junia Project. I read tie-bits of the conversation going on here in the comments about whether this articulation of complementarianism views is a straw man. The thing that saddens me is that, straw man or not, this limited view of gender roles is one that many Christians have implicitly absorbed. I’ve become aware recently that a major problem with it – moving beyond even its limitations on women – is that it ultimately fails to grasp the way men and women have been created in God’s image. Within this complementarian view, a woman’s nature and fulfillment tend to orbit around the way she engages in her family relationships (primarily as wife/mother), whereas a man’s nature and fulfillment orbit around the work he does in the world. The subtle and very poisonous implication of this idea is that a woman’s nature is more relational than a man’s. But relationality is a fundamental trait of God, one that He manifests in the trinity and instilled in humans, and one that enables us to be united with Him in relationship through Christ. To assume that men manifest this trait less than women is to do them a terrifying disservice in their Christian lives and generally. (I would hope Christianity would counteract, rather than compound, the disservices that our culture already does to our men’s relational natures.) I didn’t expect that complimentarianism would anger me more on behalf of men than on behalf of women, but on this count, it does. I agree with you that a viewpoint which promotes a “to-do list” rather than freedom is problematic, and I see the issues I’ve described here as another layer of that problem – we need a view of gender that starts with who we are as image-bearers of God, and moves forward in freedom from that starting point.

    • Hi Autumn!
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Wow, I love how you said all of that! I agree with you that men are also hurt by the complementarian message. What a great point that God is relational and we were all created for relationship as well, men included. It is sad to see men and women denying parts of themselves to fit into gendered molds.

      My favorite theologian is Gilbert Bilezikian. He has written Beyond Sex Roles, Community 101, Christianity 101, and various articles. His whole premise is that people were created for community and oneness. You have probably already read his stuff, but if not, check it out. It sounds like you might enjoy it 🙂

      “…we need a view of gender that starts with who we are as image-bearers of God, and moves forward in freedom from that starting point.” This is beautiful! I completely agree!

  • Well, the notion that we all need to be married is easy to explode, just look at 1 Corinthians 7. So I’d largely agree with this article.

    That said, the Bible does express a clear preference for men “stepping up to the plate” as it were and taking leadership. Just look at 1 Timothy 2 or the fact that the Twelve were all men (among many other examples).

    From everything I understand of Evan’s book, it does not sound like anything even remotely resembling biblical womanhood. Rather, it sounds like a person willfully misinterpreting the Bible, which is something I expect of atheists but not someone who calls herself a Christian. Poor example to hold up there.

    • Rachel Held Evans’s book is satirical commentary by way of performance. She’s taking a shot at literalists, among others.

    • Hi cypherhalo,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, 1 Cor. 7 is an important passage on this topic and one that is overlooked by many. I appreciate you bringing it up!

      I would disagree with your statement that “the Bible does express a clear preference for men ‘stepping up to the plate’ ” in leadership. Bible believing Christians have been divided on this topic for hundreds of years, so it would seem that it isn’t simply “clear”. 1 Tim. 2 is probably the most referenced verse in these situations and it has been addressed by many egalitarians. Here are some resources if you are interested in learning more about it:

      In reference to the 12 being all male, I would say that they were also all Jewish. So, is that a reflection of the time period and cultural context in which Jesus came? Or is it a biblical mandate to all Christians about Church leadership? If we are going to look to the 12 as the model for Church leadership (which the Bible never asks us to do), then we would have to take seriously the fact that they were all Jewish, instead of picking and choosing which parts of them we want to point to to justify our selective leadership.

      From your comment, it sounds like you may not have read Rachel’s book. Many comments have been made by fellow Christians, who haven’t read her book, that have accused her of similar things. I would recommend her response to some of those reviews:

        • Thanks, Tim. I have that sitting on my desk but haven’t tackled it yet. I think its interesting that people continue to throw 1 Tim 2 out there this way when there is so much scholarship now supporting the interpretation that Paul was addressing a specific misuse of authority and not authority in general. I would have thought that by now more people would be aware of the many problems in using this verse to say that women can’t be in church leadership. For example, the word translated here as “authority” is used only once in the bible at all, and when Paul does address overall authority in the church (which he does in more than a dozen other places) he uses other terms exclusively.

  • And what about the widowed? Does a woman suddenly cease to be in God’s best plan for her life if/when her spouse or partner dies?

    I too am a long-time single who doesn’t fit the mold. Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, my views on this subject have changed dramatically. 🙂 But I appreciate how you’ve added to the discussion by reminding everyone of those of us whose lives have simply take a different path…and of course how you’ve affirmed us all in doing so.


  • Hi. The main point of this essay is one I’ve discussed time at other blogs. I’m in my 40s and have never married – I had hoped to marry, but it simply did not happen for me.
    I have noted on other blogs over the past two years that much of gender complementarianism teachings (a.k.a. “biblical womanhood”) assumes that all women will marry and/or have children. At times, gender comps veer off into limiting women’s roles in church, by saying they cannot be preachers. But quite often, discussing ‘biblical womanhood’ makes no room for women who cannot, due to choice or circumstance, become a wife or mother.
    Any time single women are addressed by gender comps in blogs or in whatever media, you can tell from the tone of the piece, and the sort of advice in the piece, that the gender comp writer is assuming that the audience is comprised of 18 to 25 years old, never married women.
    Another point that escapes gender comps: Some married women want to have children but are infertile. Gender comp’s little articles intended for unmarried women do not help me at all…Their advice in such pieces is chock full of nauseating tips on things such as how the young lady can practice submitting gracefully now while she is 19 or 21 years old, so that when she meets ‘Christian Prince Charming’ by the time she is in her mid- twenties, she’ll already be a master at it and make him a great, submissive wife. There is nothing in such pieces to address what a 40- something, never married, childless woman should do about life.
    The Bible, particularly in the New Testament, does not depict singleness or childlessness as second- class statuses, and in fact upholds each as valid life situations that are acceptable to God, but many evangelicals and Baptists today do not.
    If “biblical womanhood” teachings cannot be equally applied to all women of all life stations and situations – older, younger, never married, divorced, widowed, those working careers, or stay at home types and all the gamut in between – then I would argue it’s not biblical on those grounds (there are other considerations why I feel complementarianism is not biblical, but that is a big one).
    Some gender comps will say in their published material they are not teaching that being a “biblical woman” means only staying at home and baking cookies for a husband and baby, but they will often contradict themselves in other posts by defining womanhood in precisely that manner! Or, in their screeds against secular feminism, which are frequent (for instance, gender complementarians often complain in their blogs and books, “Oh those evil, hideous, secular feminists, discouraging women from marrying, staying at home, and baking cookies!”), they again betray their real opinions on the matter.
    I am especially perturbed and annoyed at gender comps who act like staying single is a choice deliberately made by Christian women who are single past their mid 20s. Gender comps act as though, “Oh woe is me, those secular feminists have convinced Christian unmarried women to stay single into their 30s and 40s!” They could not be more wrong. I had hoped to marry by my mid 30s, but I just never met the right guy. I am not single still at my age because I willingly rejected marriage, or hate men, or was too preoccupied with career or was influenced by secular feminists.
    Gender complementarism is primarily concerned with limiting all power and influence to males in church settings and restricting a woman’s role in marriage.
    Those in favor of gender complementarianism or “biblical womanhood” typically define womanhood to mean first, foremost, or only, “be a wife and make babies (and / or) here’s HOW to be a submissive wife and great mommy, let us explain to you how,” all of which means NOTHING to a woman who’s made it to her 40s and is still not married and who’s never had children.

    • Wow, missdaisyflower, what an incredible comment. Thank you for sharing some of your personal story!

  • Add to that being African-American and seminary-educated, and it really throws some people for a loop. It’s as if they don’t know what to do with you or quite what to make of you.

    • Wow Pat, what a great point. I am sorry that you have gotten that kind of response. It can be so painful. Please keep coming back to The Junia Project. Our community benefits from your input!

  • Good post! You know, as a married woman who makes less than her husband and is (as far as I know, anyway) capable of having children in the future, my life “looks” like the supposed Biblical womanhood. Yet none of these things are actually indicative of my spiritual life or how well I am following God. And they aren’t the things that define me, and other parts of my life (such as my career and hobbies) will always continue to be as much a part of my life as my family. So even a woman who looks like she could fit that idea of “Biblical womanhood” may be very different than how they think she should be.

    • That is a great point Rachel! I think your comment helps to address a misunderstanding about egalitarianism. Some people think that egalitarians look down on stay at home moms, but many of us ARE stay at home moms. We just think stay at home dads are pretty neat too 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Bruce Ware’s comments also reflect a poor understanding of singleness, in that he sees God’s will for women as primarily fulfilling the roles of wife and mother. By the way, he backed up his viewpoint by quoting Paul’s verse about women being saved in child-bearing.

    Owen Strachan apparently also does not understand singleness in that he literally defines being a woman as supporting a man in his development as a leader.

    If at some point, some complementarians provide some caveats regarding singleness, that does not diminish the impact of these profoundly sexist and androcentric views.

    If you believe these men are not accurately representing complementarian thought, perhaps you should bring it to their attention.

  • Are complementarians wrongly portrayed as sexist? Let’s allow some of the leaders of this theological position to speak for themselves:

    “To be a woman is to support, to nurture, and to strengthen men in order that they would flourish and fulfill their God-given role as leaders” ( Owen Strachan of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).

    “A woman will demonstrate that she is in fact a Christian, that she has submitted to God’s ways by affirming and embracing her God-designed identity as—for the most part, generally this is true—as wife and mother”(Bruce Ware, Professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as cited in Taylor, 2013, p. 109).

    The New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition interprets Ephesians 5 as stating that husbands are to be regarded as the “masters” of their wives, and that wives are commanded by God to “obey” them (Wenham & Carson, 1994).

    Saying that these voices do not accurately represent complementarian theology is like saying the Pope does not represent Catholicism.

    Are these statements sexist:
    -that a woman is defined as someone who supports men so they can flourish in positions of leadership,
    -that a woman is a Christian if she submits to God’s ordained roles for her as wife and mother,
    -that husbands are “masters,” and that wives must “obey” them?

    Well Ryan, I’ll let you decide that for yourself. If you think they are sexist, however, don’t wrongly accuse egalitarians of misrepresentation. Maybe the movement you’re defending isn’t as benign as you imagine it to be.

    • Mr. Edwards,

      I do not think that the issue of complementarianism was represented accurately because it lacked an understanding of singleness. As was pointed out by my wife below, Nancy Leigh Demoss (a compelementarian who is single and has been for years) as well as Owen Strachan have dealt with the subject of singleness. The fact that these men were not able to explain this to Kate means that they do not fully understand complementarianism.

      • @ DrewSparks.

        One, lone example of a never married gender comp woman, deMoss, does not negate the fact that most gender compism does indeed define or promote being a “biblical woman” as being a wife and mother.

        As I told someone else on this thread, the fact remains that the BULK of gender complementarian teaching assumes all women are married with kids, or will be.

        I’m in my 40s, wanted marriage, it never happened for me, and the message I get loud and clear from the vast majority of gender comp commentary is that I do not truly matter because I am not a wife and mommy.

  • There is a reason why the “desired state” resembles the American Dream: because the source is from some people’s Secular, Social-Political views. Some people’s metric for determining “right” theology is that it sanctifies their Politics. If the two clash it’s the Politics not the Theology that is changed to fit.

    • Absolutely right, Matthew Crockett. I couldn’t agree more. It started with post-WW2 WASP flight to the suburbs when families could finally afford to buy their own home in little clapboard developments that started appearing everywhere outside of major cities. A man’s success was determined by the fact that he could afford his own home and also afford to have his wife work in the home, not out of it (no more Rosie the Riveter). An early 1950s sensibility. The American Dream fulfilled. And so it became a socio-political norm during the Eisenhower years, conservative, regimented, prescribed. BTW: does anyone think, just a few years before during the war, that Rosie the Riveter was a Christian? She couldn’t have been, right?

  • I’m sorry, Kate. I’m of an egalitarian conviction. I’m married to a licensed pastor. I just don’t feel this fairly represents a complementarian position. You’re arguing against a position that rarely can be found in real life. Only poorly confused people believe as you describe this young man. This is just a bit over the top. Like anybody really believes a woman who doesn’t stay home with her kids is missing out on God’s best. If they do… They should just be dismissed as ridiculous. The actual complementarian position is a valid interpretation of scripture and should be respectfully disagreed with. I just get tired of hearing egalitarians bash complementarians and portray them as sexists (although you seem very polite), when most people in this argument sincerely want to do what’s right. John piper doesn’t believe that a single woman is experiencing less than the full gospel. That’s just silly.

    • Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for your comment. I have to say that I disagree with you. This young man was not some “poorly confused” boy, he was a theologically trained pastor who helps lead a very large church, one that teaches the “biblical manhood and biblical womanhood” message.

      I also disagree with your statement that this mindset is not easily found in “real life”. I am glad that you don’t see this a lot, but that doesn’t mean that others don’t deal with it everyday. I actually come across this on a weekly basis, and I spent this weekend with several women who are studying in seminary and they come across it all the time. At The Junia Project, we get emails and comments almost everyday from people who have had to deal with this mindset. The stories are appallingly sad. So, I would encourage you to look around more and listen to the experience of others. You will find that it is a very widely held belief in church community. You may not notice this message all the time, because it isn’t directed at you in the same way it is directed at women. Just read other comments here and you will get a feel for what I am talking about.

      As for your reference to Piper, I cannot assume to know what Piper does or does not personally think. I also do not see the point in bashing him. I don’t think my post, or any on this site, have done that. This post does take into consideration what Piper has written on the topic and it also takes into account the popular teaching of BM and BW. Piper has aligned himself with very extreme teachers in the last few years, and a few of them have come right out and said that it is a sin for women to remain unmarried, so I think you may need to brush up on what the complementarian teaching has been in the last few years. I really don’t mean to come across in a negative way to you, but your comment seems to be a little uninformed and insensitive to the experience of others.

    • It disturbs me that you and a couple others here seem confused about what complementarians believe. Perhaps the message is being watered down in order to make it more palatable to the masses?

      Let’s forget Piper and go straight to the top, Owen Strachan, Ex. Director of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: “In the Bible, men are not called to be workers at home. Women are…And women and even widows are called to marry, as the Lord allows, and then bear children and make a home.”

      Don’t be fooled – the clear message of CBMW is that the woman should marry, have kids, and be in the home. So its easy to envision why single women would feel like she is experiencing less than the full gospel, as you put it.

      • I would not say we are confused Mrs. Wallace but rather that you are not looking at the whole of what complementarians believe. You mention Owen Strachan and quote one thing he has said about women marrying, having children and keeping a house and yet in minutes of me typing his name into google I was able to find articles of him addressing single people. He says in one article from October of 2010 on the “we need to make excruciatingly clear that single Christians are full citizens of the kindgom.” If you read Nancy Leigh Demoss and Mary Kassian also they have material on being single and using that season of life and for some all of life for the Lord as 1 Corinthians 7 exhorts singles to do. Nancy by the way is an older single women who has devoted her time and efforts to serving The Lord and the body of believers. My husband and I work with the youth and college group at our church and so the majority of people we interact with are young single Christians…these young people are not experiencing less of a gospel at all…that is not biblical…rather they are at a beautiful time in life to use their gifts for the Lord and grow as women and men. Will many get married…probably…so it is important to help them prepare for being the husband and wife that God desires. And for those who will remain single…they have been given a gift and praise the Lord for those men and women who are able to use their time and energy in full devotion to the Lord.

        • Gosh no, I used to be a gender comp, raised by a gender comp mother.

          They don’t speak up on behalf of never married, age 40 and older women nearly enough, if at all.

          Most all their literature and commentary assumes women reading it are 20 years old and will marry by the time they are 25 and pop out three kids.

          Like it or not the message most older single women take away from the majority of gender complementarian or “biblical womanhood” discussion is that a woman can or should only be a wife and mother.

        • @ Theresa Sparks
          P.S. There is no such thing as a “gift of singleness.”

          That phrase is not even in the Bible. Christians read that concept into the Bible, but it is not there.

          Singleness and marriage are depicted in the New Testament of the Bible as being personal choices, not as life stations God grants, gifts, foreordains, or bestows on a person.

          Your view discounts that there are women like me who had HOPED to marry and tried to get married, but we just never met the right guy. god did not “gift me” with singleness.

          I had singleness thrust on me against my will due to life circumstances, I did not choose to be single…

          Which does not mean churches should treat me and my singleness with disrespect, which they too often tend to do.

        • In today’s culture, up to 44% of American adults are single. Not that the Bible teaches that God calls or gifts anyone with marriage or singlehood, but even if you wish to use that thinking, when half the USA population is single (and may stay that way), it is false to teach that most will marry, or only a few will stay single.

          From US Census Bureau site:
          102 million
          Number of unmarried people in America 18 and older in 2011.
          This group comprised 44.1 percent of all U.S. residents 18 and older.
          Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2011

    • @ Ryan Visconti.

      She is right on the money. There are many complementarians who do indeed feel and believe that a woman’s only or main calling in life by God is to be a wife and mother.

      Rarely are sermons given that discuss singleness, or being childless.

      I’m in my early 40s never married, never had a kid, and yes, the message I get from gender compism (I used to be a gender comp and was raised by a gender comp mom, btw, so yes, I understand gender compism), and the message I pick up from gender comps is that a woman’s only value or purpose in life is to be a wife and mother.

      Gender comps, rarely, if ever discuss never-married, childless women who are over age 30. It is simply assumed by most gender comps that all women will eventually marry and have children.

  • Thanks Kate. I applaud your patience, grace, and speaking truth in love.

    As a young married man, let me speak from my point of view when I hear the message of biblical manhood & womanhood:

    What a stressful, pressure-filled, discouraging position to be in as a husband. Where, in a down economy where the separation between socio-economic classes grows larger every day, how does a man reconcile pursuing a career he feels called to, but one that doesn’t quite cover the bills? (student loans skyrocketing, healthcare, food, mortgage, etc?) What a sad story to preach that this man is failing his wife, family, and God? That He’s not living out His biblical calling because of salary cutbacks. Since when has Biblical Manhood become the 1950s American Dream that very few people can realistically live out?

    Because, if we’re being honest, you have to be rich to be able to have a stay-at-home wife and provide for your kids. Yet, all I read in the Bible is Jesus talking a lot about rich people heading caution, that money can become your master, and that is indeed the poor who will enter the Kingdom.

    Thanks for the reminder that I don’t have to live under that guilt and stress, that I can be love God and family no matter what I do for a job.

      • Hi Kate. I just wanted to say that this an excellent article, and that it does a great job in exposing some serious flaws with “the Gospel of Biblical Womanhood” propagated by CBMW. Of course, its “Gospel of Biblical Manhood” is seriously flawed as well, as indicated by the comments made Sean Thompson. The trouble is, most Christian men still don’t see that this neo-patriarchicalism is not only harmful to women, but also to men as well. In 1995, Stephen Boyd wrote a book, THE MEN WE LONG TO BE, that demonstrates this, and it was one of several books, in addition to Scripture, that led me to be convinced egalitarian. Though Boyd’s book has some serious flaws, it is still worth the reading if you want to understand why patriarchicalism is harmful to men as well as to women.

        • Hi Frank!
          Thank you so much for that recommendation! I will have to look that one up. It sounds like a really great read. You are so right-men are hurt by the “biblical manhood” message as well. It makes me very sad to see the men I love struggle under the burden of a role they do not fit into. Thank you for pointing that out! You might appreciate today’s post by Tim. It touches on that same idea. Please let me know what you think!

    • Sean,
      You make such good points in your response! It took me a long time to realize how “unloving” I was being as a wife when early in our marriage, I was expecting my husband to fulfill the opposite of that Christian ideal for women, the man who could easily make six figures so I could stay home and be a homemaker without having to work. I am not critiquing those who are able to make this choice, but in my situation the teaching I was receiving in the church was that the men who could not earn enough money and provide in this way were simply failures. That kind of thinking was detrimental to both me and my husband in many ways. We had to forge our own way out of that spiritual distortion. Kate eloquently speaks to the confusion and shame that both men and women feel when we try to live up to standards that are based on a distorted cultural value that equates material success with human value and assigns proscribed gender roles as “scriptural.” It saddens me that the Christian church has taken on this cultural norm which is counter to every one of Jesus’ teachings on wealth and kingdom living. Thanks, again, for bringing out the male perspective on how we put men in such a stress-filled and unrealistic bind. I was grateful at the end of your post when you affirmed the freedom you have in Christ to live differently.

      • Stephanie, you are so encouraging and so wise. Thank you!!

    • You DO NOT ” have to be rich to be able to have a stay-at-home wife and provide for your kids”. I have been married for 20+ years to my only wife; we have 5 amazing children with uncluttered hearts, and one more child on the way. We have been a single income-earner household for the last 16 of those years. YOU SIMPLY MUST LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS, AND LEAD YOUR WIFE AND FAMILY BY YOUR EXAMPLE OF CONTENTMENT, SIMPLICITY AND RESOURCEFULNESS. And yes, I know I’m “cyber-yelling” — if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the “you have to be rich” complaint, I’d… Well, I’d be rich. 🙂

      • Hi Ric,
        Wow, yes, you not only come across as “cyber-yelling”, but also a bit as “cyber-bullying”. Please watch that in your future comments. We want this to be a place of egalitarian community and good dialogue.

        In response to your statement, you may be right in some sense. You many not have to be “rich” in order for your wife to be a stay at home wife/mom, but you certainly cannot be poor in order to do so. And here’s the problem with the term “rich,” it’s relative. To you, your income may not seem to fall into the category of “rich,” but to someone else, you may seem very rich indeed.
        The reality is that the majority of people cannot pay their bills and provide for their children well on one income. Most families that are able to have two incomes, need both. That may not apply to you, but it does apply to many, many people. And that is the point I believe Sean is trying to make – that a one-income household is not feasible for many people, and so shouldn’t be preached as if it were a biblical ideal.

    • Wow, thank you Sean. I am so happy that this was encouraging to you! You bring up so many great points about Jesus’ teaching of wealth. I hadn’t even thought of that. Thank you for sharing your story and your wisdom! I love this comment!! You may enjoy today’s post by Tim Peck 🙂

  • Let me stand as an example of a Christian man who is attempting to learn what it looks like in this day and age. I do get frustrated by men such as the one you had the conversation with. These are the men who are too caught up by traditions built around our beliefs that they miss the point.
    A conversation with my father has led me to realize in a way I didn’t before that Christ’s life was not to teach us about being god, but rather how to be human. As such when we see Jesus interacting with women it should inform us a great deal about what the interaction between a man and woman should look like, at all levels.
    It is difficult at times to know just how to interpret scriptures that point towards the idea that we’ve twisted to make women second class under their husbands. I see no evidence that women are second class. You are all equals with men, just as you are also not the same as men. I think there is a place for the traditional role of men and women in a relationship, but it is something that both parties arrive at together as equals. And before any of you start screaming, I’ve actually wondered, when I find someone who’s willing to try building a life with me, whether I may not end up being a stay at home father.
    Let me reassure you that while the pressures are different, it isn’t any easier being a single guy in church. It’s acceptable for me to be single so long as I’m doing so to set myself up to be the traditional provider for my future family.
    So my sisters, rest assured that there are men who are attempting to let you be yourselves. I have seen God work some amazing things in an number of close, single, godly women, and I rejoice in the display of His provision for them. Please forgive the misogynists among us, as we are still merely human, even if we won’t admit it ourselves.

    • I so appreciate those (you) who are setting your eyes to see through the smoke and mirrors of other peoples interpretations that you know and believe are in error. You are brave, needed very much and I honor and applaud you. Thank you!

  • Kate – I thank you for writing about this. I would have loved to ask this man another question – not that I need him to define or explain anything for me…but because I feel called to help wake those in the church up that it is darn right time for women to STOP waiting on men to define women…that women have every right in the world to define themselves and their world and the god in their own language…meaning they have a right to say that the Divine can certainly be feminine as well.

    My question comes from my own experience. I married a man who said all the right things and looked the part. I was a completely dedicated Christian and dutiful wife, determined to make my marriage work. Unfortunately, 7 years into the marriage I finally “woke up” the fact that I was living the life of a victim and allowing all sorts of abuse to run/ruin my life. Over the course of the next 4 years, I learned all I could about abusive relationships and was HORRIFIED that 1 in 2 women will experience this – out of the number of women who actually report…I was not one of those women. I was HORRIFIED that every time I looked to understand why abusive relationships in the Church seemed and is a growing problem, that gender and gender roles was at the root. I was HORRIFIED that no one really had answers nor help for the situation, no one (in nor outside the church) has a successful rehabilitation program for abusive men…1 in 10 will become “non-abusive” whatever that means…if that.

    In the end, my journey out of a marriage killed by abuse led me to be a Single Christian woman with 2 children. I never slept around before marriage, always played the part so well of a good Christian woman…and here I was in my mid-30s the biggest Scarlet A there could be. I dedicated my life after my marriage to finding an answer for abuse, applied to seminary and got rejected. This completely altered the direction of my life and the way in which I will help eradicate abuse…and all for the better.

    I wonder what that man would have said to me….how would he have classified me and the millions of other women who either stay and die a slow death (and their kids too) or who decided to burry a dead marriage, to be the one of the two parties who wakes up to the fact that the abuse is deadly and takes the stand to stop it.

    I wrote a few posts on my blog a few years back about Singleness, the church and how it felt like the plague.

    My journey through all of this has not been easy in the slightest…but amazing in a grand way…and is one that is leading me to birth a business where I can give other women the tools I was given…so they too can awaked to the one thing they need more then anything else in this patriarchal world that we live in: PERMISSION to claim their own deed to their own self-authority. This will lead women to freedom, freedom to stop waiting on men to tell us who we are or what we should me…freedom to be exactly who we are and who the Divine is in each one of us…and in turn will give both men and women freedom to free the world of the captivity that binds us.

    • Hi Holli,
      Wow, thank you for sharing your very moving story. I truly appreciate it. God is clearly doing amazing things through you to help other women. It is so beautiful. I am learning that God often calls us into our vocation, out of our pain. Thank you for showing how God is able to redeem and restore. And thank you for sharing some of your story here.
      I’m not sure how the young man would have responded to your question, but I know that you are welcome here. I am so glad you found this online community. We are better for you being here 🙂

  • Kate,
    Beyond the always well-written and reflective thoughts you put forth, as I re-read your post today, I found myself so grateful that you and other young women (like my adult daughters) are able to give voice to these critical issues for women and Christianity. The Junia project is forging the way for a new vision of women as leaders and followers of Jesus. Thank you, thank you!

    • I echo Stephanie’s “thank you thank you.” Encouragement like this has been a long time in coming and, frankly, I thought it might never happen.

      • Thank you Marti! I am so glad you were encouraged!

    • Thank you Stephanie! Your encouragement means so much!

  • Christians everywhere will forever get “culture” and “religion” confused. Single or married, much of what passes as “Biblical Womanhood” is simply the culture of the time. As modern women, we need to think out of the box.

  • Hi Kate,

    I’ve just become aware of your blog. Very good stuff. Here’s one thing I’m curious about: what do the “complementarians” (especially the stricter ones) do with Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3 that “in Christ there is no male or female”? Kind of ironic…

    • Hi newsjunkiegrrl,
      I’m glad you found us! You pose an excellent question!

      • If I were guessing, I’d bet they’d reply that the passage is about the law vs. grace. It isn’t about family structure or authority at all. For example, we shouldn’t read it to say that children no longer have to obey their parents, or that fathers no longer are responsible for the upbringing of their children. No slave or free doesn’t mean, for example, that masters are then released from their obligation not to threaten their slaves. All those are still in effect.

        Because they are one in Christ doesn’t mean that those things are swept away in some kind of absolute sense. Only in the sense that the law has been fulfilled.

        Basically, the passage in Ephesians tells us how to submit to each other (parents, spouses, labor) WITHIN the church. Why would we think that those commands are abolished?

        That would be my guess.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. This article was so well-written and spoke so deeply to what I have experienced from time to time as a single Christian woman in her late 20’s. There have definitely been moments where I have felt like I’m not enough. (If you want, you can read about that in this blog post ) You know, it’s funny, in the 1980’s my mom was a stay at home mom and she said everyone was always on her case about “not working.” Now it seems to be the opposite! Look at the Proverbs 31 woman. She’s a mom, but she’s also a business woman, among lots of other things. God is so creative, He’s made us all unique and given us all sorts of different roles to fill all while still serving Him. I think the sooner we embrace that, the better 🙂

    • Hi Jenifer! Wow, that is such a difference between the 80s and now. One reason might be that the complementarian movement really wasn’t founded until the late 1980s. It’s crazy how recently everything changed. Thank you for sharing!

    • And Jenifer, I just read your blog. Wow! What an amazing post! Thank you for sharing! I’m going to tweet that one!

    • Andy, what a moving, beautiful piece! Thanks for sharing it 🙂

    • Thank you, Andy. I read your wife’s blog and am now a subscriber to it. You both have much wisdom to impart. I relate well to her depression.

  • I applaud your patience in your conversation…I fear I would not have been as gracious! This is such a beautifully written post in so many ways. Another question I would have asked that young man (that I find myself asking anytime I hear the whole “women should be staying home and finding their fulfillment there because that is the role God created for them” line of thinking) is “What about my friend Rebecca, who is a loving, supportive wife, a wonderful mom of two amazing kids–and also a brilliant chemist who is a professor and researcher doing incredible things in the world of science. She loves God and Jesus and, if I’m not mistaken, is using the brain and intelligence and skill set that her Creator endowed her with to impact the world through science. How does that fit in with the idea that a woman should stay home and be supported solely by her husband? Should she just put aside the talents she has been given? Then the world misses out on all the brilliant things that women can do? Doctors, educators, physicists, writers, etc–all of that means nothing next to being a supportive wife and mother?” I just see so many scenarios (many of which you brought up) where the complementarian model just does. not. fit. For some people it does, and that’s lovely for them. But I don’t see how a person can truly believe that this model is for ALL families and ALL women when reality clearly shows otherwise!!

  • Hi Kate,
    Thank you for sharing your grace in an exchange that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up! As a female pastor, I continuously endure the underhanded comments and inappropriate dialog regarding God’s call on my life. And as a single woman in the church, I grow so weary of the questioning of my ability to love because I have chosen to remain child-free, and moreso to still be single, that certainly there must be something “wrong” with me. I continuously am aware of not internalizing what others may think, and some days are better than others. I remind inquirers that I actually DO have a family, though they weren’t birthed by me.

    Thank you for showing your strength, grace, and poise and helping understanding to grow.

    • Kim,
      Thank you for sharing some of your story! You are such an important part of the family of God. Thank you for what you do!

    • I love how often we hear from female pastors. Having grown up in the American Baptist tradition, I often benefited from the teaching of women. In fact, it was during a sermon preached by a woman that my dad heard the clear call to missions, and within a year we were on our way to Japan. So thanks for your faithful service, especially during this time that is so much more restrictive for women than even at the turn of the century!

  • This post brought up such raw emotions in me! When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter (now 21), it at first appeared there was a genetic defect that would have been fatal. While we were waiting for test results, I started listening to Christian radio for spiritual guidance. It helped me through that rough period, but then the pernicious “If you would just hang your laundry out to dry rather than use your dryer, you could stay home with your children” message started seeping through. I happened to have the larger income, but it made me start looking at my husband and wondering why he wasn’t doing his “Manly” duty so I could stay home with our children. That Christian message very nearly caused us to divorce. Fortunately, God intervened (another story) and we didn’t. Thankfully, my older daughter was invited to the Episcopal church by a friend, and we found a church home. My husband is still a wounded ex-Catholic, so won’t participate, but at least I’m part of a religion that doesn’t make me feel like a BAD woman!
    Thank you for writing this. While it opens old wounds, if it helps other women not walk in guilty steps, it has done a wonderful thing!

    • Wow, thank you for sharing that Cate! What an incredible story!

  • I’m so glad to know about the Junia project. Thanks for introducing me to it in NYC! I’m looking forward the challenge this community will bring me. As a female clergy person, I’ve heard it all about not fitting the expected roles. But, I’ve seen God color outside the lines over and over again. Thanks for your post, Kate.

    • Hi Charla! I am so glad you made your way over to the blog! It was so great meeting you this weekend! Thank you for the important work you do!

  • You have a solid argument that makes perfect sense…. But that guy you were talking to was an idiot. So really, this post is just about how stupid he is, rather than any real issues that we need to worry about. So good argument, but I am more worried about how that guy is going to feed himself, cause forks can get pretty complicated.

    • No, really the post is about how women in the church are still expected to live their lives from a very small box and that in many cases if one does not fit the “mold,” then they are excluded and humiliated in small and large ways. To simply affirm Kate’s argument but then to minimize it by saying that this was all about one “stupid” man shows that you have not really experienced what she is talking about or have truly listened to people who have.

    • It’s interesting to me how quickly you’ve dismissed this as a real issue. What you need to know is that we hear these kinds of stories on a weekly basis from our readers, often in private emails, but also here in the comments and on our Facebook page. We agree it is stupid, but apparently thousands of Christian men are buying into this – just look at Mark Driscoll’s Act Like Men conference, for example.

  • Amen, sister! I never thought of the “doesn’t apply to everyone” problem but it fits right where I am (married mom working by choice).

  • Thank you so much for this!

    And like another commenter said, roles don’t “fit” – exactly. When I became a mother recently, two things surprised me:

    1. How being a stay at home mum & housewife wasn’t all-satisfying and all-fulfilling because I was ‘finally’ filling my ultimate role

    2. That I’d even had at expectation that this was my ultimate role and I’d be totally satisfied

    I’d never realised how pervasive that idea was in the church – even though I didn’t consciously think of it that way, it was ingrained in my subconscious. And the even when I realised that this role didn’t ‘fit’ me, I felt guilty for even thinking that.

    That’s why, even though I’m sure there are very balanced and well informed people in all of these complimentarian camps, I have trouble with the whole thing because I feel like as the views and beliefs get filtered down they become less and less nuanced and more prescriptive. So you end up with the average woman feeling like she’s got a role to fill and no idea what to do when she discovers it doesn’t actually ‘fit’.

    It can be a painful journey through guilt and confusion to rewire your brain.

    • Jessieie, what an insightful comment. Thank you for sharing. Like you said, prescriptive roles simply don’t fit many people, and they leave women feeling like they have failed in some way. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Hi Kate! This is obviously a very loaded, complicated, and multifaceted issue. I would just like to address one area, and that pertains to the conference attendee who represented biblical femininity as seeking a husband and staying at home, as if you are “less than” if you’re single or work outside the home or can’t have children. That is simply not the case, and the man you spoke with misrepresented “us.” (just as one example, one of the most prominent female complementarian voices is Carolyn McCulley, a single working woman in her forties, I believe. She’s not sitting around just waiting for a husband; she started a documentary company, has written several books, and speaks often at conferences).

    Yes, complimentarians believe that God created men and women for different and complimentary roles (although both equally bear the imago dei). But we do not believe that these roles can only be walked out biblically in one way (e.g. as a stay-at-home mom. Perhaps patriarchalists hold this view, and perhaps you make no distinction, but complimentarians and patriarchalists are not one and the same).

    I know our fundamental views differ on the issue, but I wanted to comment for the sake of dialogue and for the sake of having accurate information about each other’s views. If I formed my opinion of egalitarians based on one encounter and that encounter happened to actually misrepresent your views, I’d want one of you to tell me as well. Because at the end of the day, we are still brothers and sisters. And at the end of this age, we will worship and rejoice together for all of eternity in the manifest presence of our God.

    God bless!

    • I can’t speak for Kate, but did want to comment that what she experienced and heard from people who espouse to be complementarians was not an isolated incident. I have hear this kind of thinking time and time again, and it is also evident in many of the complementarian materials I have read, particularly in the True Woman materials and related websites. So while her comments may not be representative of your personal views, they seem to be widely held by many in the complementarian camp.

  • I am so excited to have followed Rachel Held Evans’s link on facebook over here. Yes! All The Yes!!! I am 35.5, utterly 100% single, and mostly convinced I don’t want kids much less worried about having enough time left to conceive them. I last attended a small rural non-denom church that in a lot of ways was a great family, but truly didn’t know what to do with me. Tried to put me in children’s ministries but that couldn’t stick cause I inevitably burned out. I have a voice and I have things to say, but there was never a point in my 10 years there where it looked like it would actually be acceptable for me to speak to the whole congregation under the guise of anything other than a “testimony.” I am so incredibly glad to have found women, and men, out there in the big wide world who understand my singleness and understand the struggle to find a body that accepts you and your gifts. And those who understand that “finding a Christian husband” is so incredibly wickedly wretchedly more difficult than anyone under the age of 30 or who has been married for more than 5 years can EVER begin to comprehend; unless they are walking that road alongside a singleton who regularly has to guard her heart extra hard and sometimes still endure yet another heartbreak. Thank you.

    • I am so sorry to hear what you have gone through in church Kristine! You are welcome in The Junia Project community, and we hope you stick around! Singleness is a tricky business in the Church and I feel for you!

  • I am working through these issues. I’m old enough that I move rather slow and cautiously – but love the way you handled the men who spoke to you. Nothing disarms a position one holds as “Biblical” as much as good questions that show the heart of a matter. It is easier to argue with an argument than with questions that make us re-examine our entire basis for understanding the view we imagined to be solid.

    • Thank you for commenting Dan! You are so gracious! If you are interested in learning more, I really do recommend “Discovering Biblical Equality” by Pierce, Groothuis, and Fee. I also truly love all the works of Gilbert Bilezikian, including “Beyond Sex Roles”. Also, feel free to message me through the website about any questions you may have 🙂 I have been in the space of working through these issues before, as well. Blessings!

  • What a succinct, well thought out post and clear presentation of the grace of God in our lives and families. As a stay at home dad, I can relate to your sentiments. The pastor guy should have told that mother who can’t have kids to adopt. Perhaps he has brushed up on his position since then.

    • I love hearing that you are a stay at home dad! Well done! perhaps he has brushed up haha 🙂

  • What a gracious and clear post. I come from a complementarian background, but the longer I am married the more I find the roles don’t “fit”, even though I am a stay at home mom! How much more so does your experience also testify that the roles don’t “fit”, and that Jesus’ call to discipleship is so much broader than our day to day occupation, marital status, culture or income level. Thank you for this.

    • Thank you for sharing a bit about yourself Browyn! I am finding that not many of us do fit. We can all “not fit” together 🙂

  • Your conversation with them shows just how harmful the whole biblical womanhood/manhood concept is to both men and women. If a woman doesn’t fit the mold, she’s outside God’s will. And if there is a man in her life – whether husband or father – and he does not put her in a position that allows her to pursue the narrow definition of biblical womanhood then he’s failing her and God. Two failures in one relationship? There is nothing in the gospel about that.

    I am so glad we have a Savior who has set us free from such nonsense.


  • Kate – your response to this man showed true patience along with glimpses of Jesus. He often answered a question with a question to make people think and your example shows us a healthy way to deal with such viewpoints . Hopefully he will think more because you answered him with honest questions instead of engaging him in an argument. And hopefully he and others will think of how their perspective harms women who experience a different calling from God than the one that “fits” their mold. Everyone who ministers to single women (and that should be everyone) needs to consider this . I would also add that single men have their own set of issues that should be considered too.
    Your entire article is very well stated and grounded in honest biblical truths. The part that especially hit me as a “wow moment” was your section on “Gospel” or the “American Dream”? So much of our traditional viewpoints have been based on this “Dream”. Small parts of scripture have been twisted and taken out of context in order to support a worldview that is foreign to it’s original intentions . Mountains of biblical examples of women in leadership roles have been ignored or explained away in a ridiculous manner in order to defend the indefensible .
    Thank you for your excellent thoughts here as well as your example!
    I would also recommend Philip B. Payne’s book “Man and Woman – One in Christ.” His biblical research that spans over 30 years is an amazing tool for equipping oneself with the necessary knowledge to educate yourself and others.

    • Thank you for such an engaging comment Marilyn! Yes, single men also have a lot to deal with in the Church, I agree. Thank you for pointing that out. I will look up “Man and Woman-One in Christ” (what a great title!), actually, I think it’s on my mom’s shelf! Thank you!!

      • Payne’s book is quite a large undertaking if read directly through. But it is a wonderful tool as a reference because of the scriptural index in back. I often use it to look up specific scriptures that I wonder about or that I have been asked about. I’ve never seen anything near it’s equal for this use! It is years of meticulous research into the original scrolls at your fingertips. So check out that index from your Mom’s shelf (Moms know best you know- lol!)

  • Hi Kate,

    Great post! I was fortunate enough to grow up with men in my life who never implied in word or action that I was not just as capable as them of leading in a spiritual way. It saddens me to see so many people did not grow up with that same ideology. I too am single and can identify with feeling “left out” of some interpretations of Biblical life, and a so called perfect will of God. When I get frustrated by the outdated attitudes I encounter, I remind myself Jesus values me and wants great things for my life not in spite of my gender, but because of it. Thanks again for the great post!

  • As I said on Twitter, you’ve handled this with an eloquent challenge to the worldwide Church. We desperately need more people to proclaim this message.

    • Thank you Bob! Your words mean more than you know 🙂 Blessings brother!

  • Hi Diana,
    Great point about the “biblical womanhood and manhood” message being limiting to men as well! You’re so right – Jesus was never worried about traditional roles of women.

  • Picking my jaw up off the table… Wow. And you know, I grew up in a church that pretty much taught the same stuff this guy talked about, and it still shocks me sometimes how many holes it has. It’s just devastating. I’m grateful that such a worldview is not mandatory based on the Bible!

    • Thank you Ed! It does have a lot of holes in it. Praise Jesus that He has another way!

    • Ed, how fun to see your comment here. I know what an advocate you are for the full inclusion of women in the church. Thanks for visiting! We are honored 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing your experience and pointing to the power of the Gospel over the emphasis on fitting a certain mold.

  • Powerfully done, Kate. Truly exceptional. Thank you for gently pushing back at that dinner table, and thank you for reporting it here. I am increasingly sad and sometimes even frightened by the pushback from the conservative wing of the evangelical church – these ‘arguments’ are so limiting, both to women and to men, and most of all, to the gospel of Jesus and to the examples he offers, over and over again, of inclusivity. Jesus was never frightened by women, nor was he bound by traditional ideas about what was ‘proper’ for a woman to say and do. Hopefully, we can, by the power of the Spirit, move forward toward inclusion and mutuality throughout the church. Thanks for contributing to that movement.

  • You definitely handled the conversation with more grace than I probably would have. I wonder how prominent Christian singles such as Carolyn McCulley, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Michelle McKinney Hammond, etc. would have responded to this young man saying that they were not in God’s “best plan.” Or missionary Gladys Aylward. The list goes on.

    • I don’t know about the other women you mentioned, but I’ve heard Nancy Leigh DeMoss mention in radio interviews and in other articles that singleness isn’t “God’s plan for women.”

      • Actually Nancy Leigh Demoss is a Complementarian. But she would disagree with this man in the conversation. She believes both singleness and marriage can beautifully display God’s plan for woman.

          • I had not seen the article, but after reading it I will point out that as a complementarian–I see flaws in some of this thinking as well. However, complementarianism IS NOT exactly what people think of it. Many “olden days” traditions have been tossed into complementarianism, while they are in fact only traditions and not based on Scripture at all. Reading Scripture, it’s clear that women can pray in front of the church. It’s clear that women in Paul’s day stood up, and prayed & prophesied. Traditions do more to limit women, than complementarianism do.

            Sadly, I think many traditions have become lumped in with the complementarian view, because they are closer to that view than they are to feminism or egalitarianism. But not all complementarians think this way. I don’t! I truly believe in gender roles, but they aren’t meant to limit us–In fact, I’ve seen firsthand that surrendering to God’s way & to his “role” for my life, has given me more strength and freedom than I ever had pursuing a role I had designed myself. Why? Well, I believe it’s because God created me with His design in mind, and He created me to be most fulfilled when I am fulfilling the design He made. When I try to act outside of His design, I many times begin to flounder. I become overwhelmed and even “trapped” by my own desires. For me, it’s truly liberating to let go of me…and embrace this role He created me for. In my eyes, there’s nothing limiting about it.

            Most of what I spoke of with Nancy Leigh Demoss, I’ve heard live. But there’s a video study I went through with she & Mary Kassian, and others. There are videos online if you want to check them out at There are week by week discussions about the different concepts.

          • Rachel, thanks for the explanation. I have read through the True Woman materials and found them to be lacking in biblical/scriptural support. Take for example, this quote from the study: “Being created for someone indicates that God created the female to be a highly relational creature. Her identity isn’t based on work nearly as much as on how well she connects in her relationships….We need to keep in mind, what is it that woman was created to help man do?….She’s a helper that helps him fulfill his purpose. And what is his purpose? To glorify God.”

            This kind of teaching makes broad assumptions and reads far too much into the text. Egalitarian theology refutes the study’s claim that the woman was “created for someone”. and that Eve was “a helper that helps [Adam] fulfill his purpose”. Where is that ever stated in scripture? Nowhere. It completely ignores the creation narrative of Genesis 1 and is a misinterpretation of the Hebrew phrase “ezer kenedgo”, often mistranslated as “helper”. Carolyn Custis James addresses the real meaning of this phrase well in her book “Half the Church”.

            The True Woman materials abound with assumptions and poor interpretation in this same vein. Another example, “the fact that woman was created within the boundaries of a household {garden of Eden} also implies that women have a unique responsibility in the home….For the woman, the work of nurturing her relationships and keeping her family in order and her household in order takes priority over other types of work.” There is no evidence in scripture to support a statement like this. The garden of Eden was not the equivalent of a household. Adam and Eve were given the same mandate – to rule AND to nurture.

            It is disturbing to me that the True Woman materials contain such a poor theology of women. I encourage you to read Gen 1-3 in one sitting, and to do the same with the four gospels, and then the letters of Paul. Write down every instruction to women. You will find a much different emphasis on a woman’s purpose when you read the bible this way.

            There is some excellent content explaining the egalitarian interpretation of the creation account here: Here is a link to a blog series that cites extensively from the video series referenced above for those who would like know more about these complementarian teachings:

          • I have read Genesis 1-3 many times, as well as the Gospels and Paul’s teaching on women. It’s actually been my biggest area of study since around 2004. It is my study of those things that led me to love the teachings of Nancy Leigh Demoss and others. Because my beliefs weren’t taught to me BY those people, but were formed through my study of Scripture. I don’t think her teachings are lacking at all, but that they accurately depict what I see in Scripture.

            When you say that “It is disturbing to me that the True Woman materials contain such a poor theology of women”, I truly don’t comprehend that statement. I find that theology to be BEAUTIFUL! I find sooo much value and worth and dignity in the way that Nancy, and I think the way Scripture, has defined the role of woman!

            The concept that both manhood, and womanhood, and marriage, and singleness–are all such beautiful pictures of the Gospel (and all bring so much glory to God), is one that is so inspiring to me! I really do find so much worth and fulfillment in that, and I find freedom and joy through embracing it!

            On the other hand, I’ve studied egalitarian works–even “Discovering Biblical Equality”, and I see many concepts that to me–seem to be man-made ideas that someone has tried to mold Scripture to support. Granted, complementarians have sometimes done the same thing. But if we ignore the “traditions” that some people claim are complementarian (i.e. the idea that women can’t pray in church), and look at the overall concept–I really do believe the complementarian view lines up most closely to Scripture.

          • Hi Rachel, I know we disagree on this issue, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I want to throw out an idea: Perhaps you find the complementarian “roles” fulfilling and beautiful because you happen to fit into them naturally. I don’t know you, but it seems from your comments that this might be true. For those of us who don’t naturally fit into the “role,” and those of us who tried to but only came out depleted and depressed, we see these gender roles for what they are – limited. They don’t apply to every woman, and as such, I cannot support them as if they did. Thanks for stopping by!

          • Not at all actually. I am now married, expecting my first child, and planning to stay home. BUT I was not married until last year–and had only known my husband for about 8 months when we married. Much of my adult life (I married at 27–which I know isn’t ancient) has been spent as a single 20-something woman in the ministry!

            As for “fitting” the gender role, I see the gender role not as a marital status but as my identity–my very character. God calls us as women to be nurturers, homemakers, to have a gentle and quiet spirit, etc. While nurturing does tend to be natural for most women, I know very few women who naturally have a gentle and quiet spirit. I know I don’t! It is something I have had to cultivate, and that requires me daily dying to myself. It’s not natural at all. Naturally, I was born in sin, and I am very selfish. I want to control everything and do everything my way. I want to do something GREAT. But the more I seek God, the more He convicts me of my selfishness, and the more He renews my mind so that my desires become more in line with this role that He has designed. It wasn’t natural–but it is fulfilling!

            Yes, we definitely disagree on this. But I do want to point out that my idea of complementarianism is NOWHERE near the conversation you describe in your post! While I do not believe a woman should teach or have authority over men, I recognize that many have said that women cannot do ANY ministry. And that is soooo far from what Scripture teaches! To me, Biblical womanhood & complementarianism aren’t about being a wife and mom, but about being a woman who seeks after God, nurtures those around her, is hospitable, has a gentle and quiet spirit, respects/submits to her husband if she has one, and fulfills the Titus 2 mandate of teaching other women.

            I have in the past violated this–I once “spoke” (didn’t use the word “preach”) to a group of young adults–both male and female. I convinced myself that it was okay if I didn’t call it preaching. Honestly, God used it. Many people were challenged by what I spoke and came forward to pray at the end of my “lesson”. But I was convicted greatly by what I had done. I went home and became violently ill for about an hour. I began to seek the Lord about whether I should have spoken. I truly believe God can use us even when we go against His design, but God’s conviction set in so deeply that I committed to the Lord that I would never again teach or exercise authority of any sort over men. Instead of rationalizing in my mind about what *I* thought was okay or what *I* thought made sense, I should have sought the Lord’s Word BEFORE I spoke. I had read the Scripture about this, and chose to re-define what I was doing. But my actions were wrong–they violated God’s Word. Over MUCH time of dying to myself and seeking to fulfill His design, I’m convinced that it isn’t limiting at all. It does involve me giving up control. It does involve me giving up things I want. But once I’ve done that, His design begins to flourish me as a woman. I begin to be re-shaped into someone new. (This is not to be equated with salvation, but it is a sign of His work in my life, post-salvation).

          • Rachel, where does Scripture say each of those things about women specifically, “God calls us as women to be nurturers, homemakers, to have a gentle and quiet spirit”? I’m genuinely asking.

          • I don’t see it either. I’m a “turn the tables over in the temple” kind of person. It’s part of the personality God gave me, throughout my life, and I’m a very “mature” decades-long married woman.

          • Hi Rachel

            Just wanted to thank you for your beautiful comments and bringing some clarity and insight about the complementarian position…praise The Lord for what He has taught you and has been doing in your life!

  • Hats off to you for keeping your wits and logic about you. Hard to do! My God understands math. If God truly created things as this young man thought, then birth rates would be equally male and female. God would even have church attendance exactly equal so that everyone could be paired up. Truth is that church attendance is well over 50% female, as are birth rates. My God is logical, mathematical and nearly always uses the most unlikely candidate. I can only think of Saul as the one Biblical example of God empowering the likely candidate -tall, married, male. Guess that one didn’t work out so well in the end for the people.

    • Hahaha Teriann, your comment it awesome! Such a great point! Thank you! Oh, and good point about Saul!

      • And what about Paul’s high praise in 1 Corinthians for those who have devoted themselves to Christ first? and how about that half-female bunch he sent his love to at the end of Romans? and Phoebe, who brought the letter….uh, she apparently was not accompanied by a biblical male…and HE COMMENDED her to them as what? not an incomplete chica, but a faithful servant of the church! 🙂

  • Why have I never heard of a proponent of “Biblical manhood” (such as the pastor-in-training you described) point out the fact that Jesus himself doesn’t fit their definition?

      • Lucie makes an excellent point. I think it highlights how “biblical womanhood” proponents focus so narrowly on a few isolated teachings of Paul, to the complete exclusion of Christ’s own example and teaching.

        • I think you’re right Jan! Very insightful comment!

  • The situations you brought up are common. One situation I don’t see brought up in a direct situation like yours is, “What if I’m a woman who has nontraditional gifts and is called to do something nontraditional?” It appears that the response would simply be, “You can’t. You have to fit the mold.”

    While there is plenty of room for women who love and are gifted and called to homemaking and child-rearing, there isn’t room for women who are gifted at a certain career or in a certain ministry and who get things done and advance there.

    By way of example–this is just one and there are many–there’s the “Christmas in My Heart” series. I really enjoy this series of traditional Christmas tales and have every book in the series. But it’s really clear that someone like me who is career-focused is bad. Women with careers are portrayed poorly in just about every story. Single mothers get sympathy as they struggle with underpaid jobs or being out of work, but some of them meet a man (as they ought to, right?) and some, God sends them help. But it’s only a stopgap; they’re not supposed to find a great career that they’re good at and their income and fulfillment takes off.

    In so many stories, you find a stay-at-home mother quite obviously compared to a woman with a career. Never does the career women come off looking good, or even second-best. She’s the “bad guy” of the story. In several stories, women with careers repent and come to their senses and quit their jobs to stay home with the kids. The message in the series is relentless and clear: Unless you’re a traditional woman, married, at home, with children, with no ambitions outside the home, you’re bad.

    This is just one series of books out of all we’re exposed to in life. If you’re not traditionally domestic, it’s an uphill battle. (Full disclosure, I live in a very traditional area that is very much in line with the man you talked to in this article.)

    • Terri,
      I am sorry to hear that you are surrounded by patriarchal thinking. It is not a welcoming place to be as a woman with gifts outside the traditional. I truly feel for you. Please know that you are always welcome here at The Junia Project! I will have to look up the series you wrote about. It sounds interesting!

      • Thanks. That probably came out all negative and I didn’t mean for it to. I’m in a hard place right now, but also a place of great potential at this specific time. It’s a great help to read everyone’s comments and to have a community supportive of all gifts and callings (not limited to the white male’s American Dream). There are communities on Facebook, too, that are supportive. It helps those of us who are isolated out in the country in conservative “compounds” to cope better and feel less isolated. God above everything, is my prayer.

  • Thank you. I agree that this entire discussion does not reflect Jesus or the Bible, but a narrow, specifically American viewpoint of a nuclear family from a time gone by. I’m SO tired of that discussion and its pigeon-holing results. And there is little room for us singles in the church when that is the prevailing message of “normal” or “ideal.”

    • Ari, it is a strange feeling being a single in the Church. Let’s stick together!

  • This is a great post, Kate. Very good points and the singleness issue is one I’ve written on as well. Nicely done.

    Personally I wish you’d recommended something like “Discovering Biblical Equality” at the end rather than RHE’s book (because of how polarizing an author she has become in the evangelical world). It’d be nice if people came to associate evangelical non-complementarians with the Catherine Kroegers, Aida Spencers, Ben Witheringtons and Gordon Fees out there whose commentaries they’re already familiar with. Those authors are much harder to simply dismiss than progressive bloggers who’ve come to have their own somewhat tribal following.

    • Hi JM! Thanks for your comment. “Discovering Biblical Equality” is a great book! I think you are correct in thinking that complementarians do not easily dismiss Gordon Fee, Catherine Kroeger, etc. That is a very good point.
      What I like about RHE’s book is that you don’t have to have theological training to understand it. It is personal and humorous and allows the lay person to become familiar with a different way of thinking. I appreciate that about Rachel’s writing. I really appreciate your suggestion to add Fee’s book to the post. I will do that! Thank you!

  • Wow, thank you for reporting on this interaction. I guess it is some consolation that this fellow seems to have not actually thought through the full implications of his belief system (rather than him having thought things through and remaining convinced he was talking sense!) I commend you for your restraint in reporting this story… I would have had difficulty remaining respectful and refraining coming across as holier-than-him in the re-telling. Well done. I take some comfort that he will likely see more rubber hitting the road when he becomes a pastor and is exposed to real people and real struggles, and realize that most of life cannot be tied up so neatly into “ideals”.

    If you are a single Christian woman, according to this man, “the best plan for your life is to find a good Christian man who will lead your family and provide enough that you can stay home”. That’s great. What shall I tell my single Christian women friends who have been searching for 20 years and have come up empty? Where exactly should they compromise when choosing a partner for life? Shall they settle for a non-Christian? And what if every single Christian woman suddenly took his advice and somehow convinced the nearest single Christian man to marry them… the numbers don’t add up. There would be, what, two or three women to every man? Does polygamy rate higher on your acquaintance’s spectrum of the “ideal” life for a Christian woman than being single?

    • What a great point Anne! It simply won’t work for everyone. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Kate
    Your point is well-taken. However, don’t you think that you are conflating the message of “biblical womanhood” with that of the gospel and thereby making a strawman. According to complementarians, don’t gender roles (which I myself as a good mutualist don’t agree with) begin once a person has become a part of the community of believers – and so is more to do with Church practice and community *standards* and structure rather than the gospel per se.

    • Hi Aaron,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate your warning of creating a strawman. I do not wish to do that at all. I think you are correct in theory about complementarians teaching gender roles as a part of the already saved community.
      In practice, however I think this message comes across differently. I see the mixture of the Gospel with gender roles in the actions of quite a few complementarian/patriarchal leaders who have condemned egalitarian Christians for their beliefs in biblical equality, and have claimed that egals are not fully saved because of this view. I also see it in the messages of (specifically celebrity) pastors who not only preach the saving message of the Gospel in their churches, but mix it with gender roles so as to teach it all in one.
      It is this mixture of the Gospel and gender roles that has led me to write about the “gospel of biblical womanhood”. I greatly appreciate your comment though, as I do not want to conflate the other side’s message. Thank you for keeping me honest!

      • Kate, I would like to point out that in your example, the gentleman stated that he *chose his seminary* for its complementarian views – that was as critically important to him as its view of the core Gospel message. I really think this illustrates your point about the Gospel and gender roles already being conflated, and so I think it’s natural and appropriate for your response to address the issue.

        I admire and hope to emulate your gentle and genuinely curious responses to him, and appreciate the similar attitude of the discussion on this board.

  • Yep, and amen. Good post.

    To me, the primary call is to use the gifting that God has given you, and if that conflicts with traditional viewpoints on roles, it is likely that the traditional viewpoint is too narrow.

    Thanks for taking the time to explain your position to the student at that conference…. If your position is more Biblically sound than the position he was stating (duh… it is), odds are pretty good that he eventually re-examined his beliefs.

  • Thankx Kate. Well written thought out post and yeah, looks like this conversation will be around for a while but at least it is being had i guess – long way to go – but thank you for the way you approach it with grace and humility when i imagine there has to be a lot of emotion and anger/hurt in there as well – hopefully the way it is set out here will cause others to think… i have a section on my blog called Taboo Topics and one of the ones i have dealt with [topics rarely spoken of by church] is Singleness and have some amazing stories shared by some incredible friends of mine [and if you’re ever looking to guest post, would love to hear this from your perspective] –

    Again, thanks for your voice on this
    Strength in Him
    love brett fish

    • Thanks Brett!
      I appreciate that you felt my post came across with grace and humility. It is a personal topic for sure, and I pray that God gives me a gracious spirit. Thanks for telling me about your blog! I love that you are talking about singleness. I am excited to check out your blog. Right now I am reading through “The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness” by Khristi Adams. I will most likely do a review for Junia and will let you know when it goes up 🙂 Singleness is a topic not much covered in the Church. Thanks for moving the conversation forward!

      • Kate, love, I don’t know if this helps, but there is much written regarding singleness in Orthodoxy. The Church does cover this topic, but maybe not within the Protestant church. 🙂 oxo

  • This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    And it serves as a good reminder to have conversations and ask questions in a situation where I would be tempted to argue and prove my point.

    • Hi Naomi,
      What a great point! Thanks for sharing!

  • Because it doesn’t apply to everyone…

    Right on, Kate. While I fit the outward stereotype for the most part, when biblical manhood/womanhood proponents get to know me, they judge me as not fitting. One even told me I couldn’t have written the book he admired greatly before he got to know me. (Of course, I had.) We were work colleagues, and apparently I was more “uppity” than he had understood me to be from my writing in a book solely about how the model of Jesus can inform the field (my field) of both PK-12 teaching and teacher preparation. Apparently I proved to be, in person, too pushy. And I did and do carry a sense of urgency where the minds and souls of our children and youth are involved.

    • Ah…”pushy” – this is code for “female with an opinion,” or “female who has a task that needs to be done, and the commitment and perseverance to get on and do it.” In males, the appropriate words would be “intelligent,” “a leader,” “gets things done effectively & efficiently.” It doesn’t matter at all whether a woman is actually pushy. In the eyes of many men (and some women), just being female makes her pushy or bossy or even a bully.

      • I appreciate the sisterhood, Bronwen. I’ve worked for female bullies who are characterized by their stern authoritarian style and who play their employees off each other, creating a dysfunctional swamp of distrust (in the natural environment, most swamps are ecologically functional), and who are less charming by far to their female employees than they are to their male employees. It’s like a spirit of competition with the women, a devaluing of their place within the work structure, a micromanaging scorn of their new ideas. Most of the years of my professional experience have been in evangelical institutions of higher ed, primarily dominated by complementarian/traditional hierarchical thinking.

    • Wow, hi Marti! Thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate your comment. Thank you for your work!

      • I can really relate to what you are saying about single women. I was single until I was 34 , and was lucky to go to an independant charismatic church that had a female pastor and where as a single woman found honor and a place of service. I never heard the message you heard from this young man. I’ve moved to a new church which also has women on the pastoral team. In fact in all the fellow charismatic/prophetic style churches I ve visited or been a part of, women–single or married– have been honored and allowed to minister. So there is a large swath of “conservative” Christianity that does not preach the message that guy in your group preached. You should be aware of this..

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