Did you pick that up, my misspelling of compliment (e versus i for the middle vowel)? Well, that’s the trick the Southern Baptists are trying to play on their faithful women members. Traditionally, Southern Baptist churches practiced Patriarchy; that is, the men are in charge. The modern world has moved away from that authoritarian model, and women have risen into equality in leadership roles. This is true in the business world, in elected office and in most healthy families. It’s called Egalitarianism.
However, gender equality in leadership has not been embraced by many of the churches and denominations that claim to honor the Bible as God’s timeless Word. They believe that Patriarchy is the only model allowed by the Bible, and this must be taught as God’s way for every generation of human history and in every culture. A Biblical church has to honor this and demonstrate it by ordaining only men to be Pastors and Elders, in positions of authority.
Way back in the 1970s, the congregation of Altadena Baptist Church worked hard to reevaluate this issue. After much study and discussion, we felt that God was clearly leading us into a new chapter of church history, one in which the authority structure taken for granted in Biblical cultures was being replaced by a full affirmation of women’s equal role in church leadership and decision-making. We elected women to ABC’s Deacon Board and ordained women to ministry as Missionaries and Pastors.1 Today, we are led by Pastor Connie DeVaughn, whom we accept as our God-appointed leader, and five of our seven Deacons are women.
Dr. Rick Warren is an influential Christian writer and respected founding Pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the United States. From its beginning in 1980, Saddleback Church has been part of the Southern Baptist Convention. As his retirement approached, Pastor Warren took a bold step into the future by ordaining three women to be Pastors in his network of churches. This went against the stated policy of the Convention. Southern Baptist leadership decided to make an example of him and the church. This decision came to a dramatic climax just a week ago, at the Convention’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans. They kicked them out (the technical language was “Saddleback Church is not in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention”).2
The Southern Baptists think they have found a clever way of masking their old, worn out commitment to Patriarchy. They’ve replaced that title with a new-fangled label: Complementarianism. This word was actually created in 1988 by a an OG group of self-appointed male traditionalists called The Gospel Coalition.3 It quickly became a fad for conservatives in the Evangelical world to adopt the title. It sounds sort of new and different, and it has a positive feel to it. Over the past few decades, more and more churches, denominations and popular leaders have adopted this newish title for their old-fashioned defense of male headship.
But don’t miss the e in the middle. There are actually two different words in the English language. Compliment, with an i in the middle, is a word we use frequently. It means saying something nice about another person: “Let me compliment you on your new suit; very classy!” Complement, with an e in the middle, is less common. It refers to something that completes another: “Those shoes are a nice complement to your new suit.”4
So, when Southern Baptist male leaders say to the strong women in their churches, “We’re not promoting Patriarchy; were promoting Complementarianism,” they’re hoping women will hear that as a compliment. Actually, it’s an insult. It’s just old-fashioned Patriarchy with new wrapping paper.
You see, the OGs are still in charge; they’re just allowing the women to complement them, to enhance their leadership gifts with the women’s support gifts. They deny this in their teaching, saying, “Our gifts complement each other,” but you never hear them expressing it in the opposite direction: “You lead with your female gifts; I’ll complement you with my male gifts.” The more you listen to this Complementarian double-talk, the more you see that it’s a scam. It’s just old-fashioned Patriarchy repackaged.
So, Rick Warren, thanks for exposing the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m sure Saddleback Church will make it just fine with their new women pastors. I’m really glad the congregation of ABC worked through this issue more than forty years ago, and ever since then, we’ve been benefitting from the leadership gifts of women and men serving the Lord side by side, complimenting each other while we’re complementing each other.
– – Pastor George Van Alstine
1 For more information about ABC’s journey toward this change, please contact Pastor George Van Alstine.
2 You can watch these events unfold on YouTube videos, such as:
3 Complement vs Compliment:
Dictionary definitions – here
Growing usage in church conversations –here
4 One of the key leaders of this group was Pastor John Piper, who emerged into prominence through our own denomination, Converge, and its schools, Bethel College and Seminary. In the 1980s this group began writing increasingly about male headship, making the claim that women’s submission to men was not, as many Christians at that time believed, a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Rather, they argued, the requirement for women’s submission was part of the created order. Men were created to rule and women were created to obey. The Gospel Coalition’s 1988 Statement affirmed the submissive role of women. It said, “Wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.”