Pope Francis, Owen Strachan and others, discuss “complementarity.” Does it mean the same to all?
Yesterday, Owen Strachan, President of Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), reported on an international colloquium sponsored by Pope Francis who invited leaders from around the world to discuss complimentarity: “Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus are among those representing 14 faith traditions from 23 countries (Source).
From Strachan’s article:
Right now in Rome, the Catholic Church is holding an international colloquium on a very important, and highly controverted, subject: sexual complementarity. The title of the gathering is Humanum Colloquium, “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium.” The colloquium’s focus is on the institution of marriage . . .
As the President of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, this event warms my heart. I often find that CBMW is a lonely voice promoting complementarity, the idea that the sexes fit together and become one as the fulfillment of our distinctiveness. God created man and woman, not any organization. Procreation depends upon complementarity. The future of the human race depends upon complementarity. If men and women do not come together, they cannot produce children, and humanity will die (Source).
I had to read it twice. In the use of the word complementarity above by Strachan, he seems to be using it in the same way I read in articles from Catholic news sites and from the words of Pope Francis, promoting traditional marriage of man and woman and producing children. I can roll with that.
The title that was given this gathering of religious leaders used the word “complementarity.”
Here is the title again:
Humanum Colloquium, “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium
Let’s read what it says on the website promoting the event:
The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium is a gathering of leaders and scholars from many religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.
Witnesses will draw from the wisdom of their religious tradition and cultural experience as they attest to the power and vitality of the complementary union of man and woman. It is hoped that the colloquium be a catalyst for creative language and projects, as well as for global solidarity, in the work of strengthening the nuptial relationship, both for the good of the spouses themselves and for the good of all who depend upon them.
The Colloquium is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (Source).
STOP, HOLD ON, WAIT one cotton pickin’ minute!!!!
Complementarianism is the pet word of Owen Strachan, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and all of the folks who promote and endorse CBMW. Yes, part of the word has to do with husband and wife and producing children as was mentioned both by Strachan in his recent article and the informational summary of the event. But for CBMW, it goes far beyond that:
Is Pope Francis using the word to show husband’s male headship and authority over wives, in extra-biblical terms indicating what women are permitted to do and not permitted to do?
Does Pope Francis’ meaning of the word complementarity mean that women will be submitting to all men in the new creation (see my article on this topic and note that it is hosted on the CBMW website)?
Does Pope Francis’ meaning of the word complemtarity mean he is in alignment with Wayne Grudem’s 83 (extra-biblical) rules for women (Wayne Grudem is a co-founder of CBMW)?
Or is Pope Francis talking about a different kind of complementarity and Strachan is taking advantage of the opportunity to jump on the coattails of this widely publicized and international event to promote a word and teaching he so loves?
I don’t for a minute think Pope Francis would endorse Wayne Grudem’s 83 extra-Biblical rules for women or the other ideas espoused above. In a large majority of the world, women must work in order to survive. For some in Strachan’s camp, the idea of women working outside the home endorses Feminism.
Folks, Strachan’s article could be very confusing to those who are trying to make sense of “complementarity.” I’ve searched high and low and can find no indication that Pope Francis endorses the extra-Biblical rules that define the word complementarity in the same way as Strachan and his friends at CBMW.
It would seem that Catholics would understand their pope and the meaning of his words. Take a look at excerpts from the Catholic News Service article, Pope says defending traditional marriage is matter of ‘human ecology’:
Pope Francis called for preserving the family as an institution based on marriage between a man and a woman, which he said is not a political cause but a matter of “human ecology.”
“The complementarity of man and woman … is at the root of marriage and the family,” the pope said Nov. 17, opening a three-day interreligious conference on traditional marriage. “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
Pope Francis said that “marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment.
You see, Pope Francis is in agreement with CBMW’s foundational issues of marriage: that marriage is between a man and a woman as husband and wife (as opposed to same-sex marriage families). He talks about the cheapening of marriage and I think most of us can agree that we have seen lack of commitment in couples to stay married when the going gets tough.
But that’s not the whole of CBMW’s message. In addition to man being married to a woman, they place an emphasis on hierarchy within the home, male headship. Here’s more from the Catholic News Service so you can see the difference in meaning:
The pope also stressed that the complementarity between male and female does not necessarily entail stereotypical gender roles.
“Let us not confuse (complementarity) with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern,” he said. “Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the education of their children.”
And there you go. The pope is keeping it defined to solely marriage as husband and wife with gifts, but there is no mention of hierarchy.
Pope Francis said Christians find the meaning of complementarity in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “where the apostle tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that — just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole — everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each.”
That sounds beautiful to me!
“To reflect upon complementarity is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all creation,” the pope said.
Interestingly, Owen Strachan’s friend, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, was also invited to attend, and in his article, Why I’m Going to the Vatican, he explains:
… I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled. In this colloquium, we come not hiding our distinctives behind some general and abstract faith, but we come to it speaking from our distinct confessional traditions to this issue. It’s an issue I believe God has revealed in the universe around us (Gen. 1-2), and that he has explained in the mystery of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:32), which is why it is of such importance.
Russell Moore’s speech mostly discussed God creating male and females, and how that design works to further the Gospel, but he did quickly dabble into what he typically endorses, male headship. You can read his transcribed address here. But for the most part, it seemed that Moore stuck on track with an agenda of promoting traditional marriage of a husband and a wife.
Take a look at another Catholic source, Vatican Insider, as they describe complementarity. There’s no hierarchy here, folks, in fact, notice the word mutual:
The union between man and woman is complementary not because it forms a complete whole in itself, but because it illustrate [sic] show both are a mutual support to one another on the path toward the Creator. The birth of a child is the demonstration that this union is not just about the two people in it. The union of two people, the act of becoming one flesh, is expressed through the creation of a child through this union, when two people come together. So complementarity also means abundance, the creation of something new. (Vatican Insider Staff)
Some may wonder if I am attempting to promote Catholicism in this article by defending the Pope and Catholic publications. Not at all. I am pointing out that it’s important to understand meanings of words used in context. This event was sponsored by Catholics who used the word complementarity. If Strachan is going to jump on the bandwagon and report on this important international event where religious leaders from around the world are discussing marriage and complementarity, it’s important that he uses the word in the way in which it was intended. Owen Strachan’s use of the word always includes male headship. As far as I have seen, Pope Francis has not made any mention of hierarchy.
I think Mr. Strachan made an error when writing his article in not clearly identifying that his version of complimentarity does not align with Pope Francis’ use of the word. In fact, because of the word “mutual” above, I’m surprised Mr. Strachan hasn’t spoken out against it. It sure sounds pretty egalitarian to me.
- Speakers at the colloquium.
- Adrian Warnock breaks down complementarianism, patriarchy, and egalitarian in understandable terms.