Within theology, “egalitarianism” is defined as “a movement based on the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and society.” It’s counterpart, “complementarianism” is defined as “the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.” These two theological concepts have been used (and abused) to create hierarchies within the church as well as to cause division within churches over who should be allowed to lead. However, in looking deeper into the concepts of both egalitarianism and complementarianism, I have found that I do not think it is an either/or, but rather a both/and.
The terms themselves carry various connotations behind them that are filled with baggage that draw battle lines. Egalitarianism brings with it the idea of a too liberal theology where those who hold to it do not truly believe in the Bible and want to see the institution of the church taken down, while complementarianism brings forth the idea of fundamentalist, sexist, misogynists that are bent on keeping women in their place. This has created a dichotomy that has brought forth an “us vs. them” mentality. This is where I find Lucy Peppiatt’s redefinitions of the two positions helpful.
In particular, I agree with her assessment of complementarianism. She writes, “The term complementarianism should describe a view where two different entities enhance one another in a reciprocal, harmonious, and interdependent fashion.” The issue with the traditional definition of complementarianism is that it has been used to subjugate or bar women from entering into positions of leadership or to create a false dichotomy of inferiority. However, if one were to look through Scripture, one can see that the Body of Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 12 is to be a complement to one another:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-20
The passage goes on to read that the various parts of the body cannot say to the others, “I don’t need you!” What is so unique about this is that it shows not only the diversity that is supposed to be found within the church, but also that each member has a unique, God-given role that is to be used for building up and edifying the church. We are all equal within the body of Christ, but our gifts are not the same; our gifts are used to complement other members of the body, regardless of gender.
This is where complementarianism should be: Not a dichotomy of men vs. women, but rather a unique lens into the beauty of the how God created the world. In my experience of leading teams with my previous organization, the thing I was always astounded by was how each of my teams carried with them strengths and weaknesses that the others complemented. Their unique gifts were used in ways that not only brought our team closer together, but allowed each to contribute to the mission.
This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. The first time I led a team, I tried to do everything myself and realized very quickly what my shortcomings were. I did not take my team’s gifts into account when we were planning teaching activities and I tried to lean into an identity that wasn’t mine, but rather my previous leaders’ identities. When I finally realized how my team complemented one another and shifted my paradigm, each person felt empowered and our team was able to accomplish great things that summer with our students.
We cannot continue to assume that others do not bring value to the body of Christ because they break with the traditional molds of leadership and positions found within the church. When are bar people – whether men or women – from using these gifts as God has empowered them, we dishonor the imago dei and Body of Christ.
Although Peppiatt refers to complementarians as “hierarchicalists” and egalitarians as “mutualists,” the term mutualist also infers a complementary nature to it. There is a mutual building up of the church through complementary gifts. However, in order for this to happen there needs to be a reclamation of what it means to be both man and woman as created by God. Katia Adams writes, “Once we align ourselves with His understanding around our identity and authority on the earth, then we will be ready to start taking up the full mantle of what we were created for.”
 Lucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (2019), 6.
 Katia Adams, Equal: What the Bible Says about Women, Men, and Authority, Colorado Springs: David C Cook (2019), loc. 192-214.