Complementarian Patriarchy and Fundamentalist Patriarchy are Both Harmful; But How are They Different?

Christian patriarchy is a misguided belief with very harmful consequences. But there are some who embrace Christian patriarchy who prefer the term ‘complementarianism’ instead of ‘patriarchy’; it sounds more gentle and also helps to disassociate them from the more extreme fundamentalist patriarchy.

But they are both patriarchy; and both are harmful.


Who Are the Complementarians?

Complementarians think men and women are different but that their ‘biblical’ roles complement each other. They like to talk about ‘biblical manhood and womanhood’. But I think popular author Rachel Held Evans has a point when she says:

Their rhetoric consistently reflects a commitment to an idealized glorification of the pre-feminist nuclear family of 1950s America rather than a commitment to “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”

I contend that the gender roles they promote are not ‘biblical’.

Many complementarians are from Reformed and Baptist traditions. In 1987, this group developed the Danvers Statement to describe their patriarchal views. An interesting aspect of the statement is that it contains a list of council members, including very familiar Christian leaders such as John Piper, Gleason Archer, Beverly LaHaye (yes, there are female patriarchists), and Douglas Moo.

Additional familiar names are found on the Board of Reference: Jerry Falwell, Carl F. H. Henry, James Kennedy, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Pat Robertson, Adrian Rogers, R. C. Sproul, and John Walvoord (some are now deceased). You perhaps know even more of the council members and members of the Board of Reference listed on page 4 of the Danvers Statement.

These lists give us a good idea of who the ‘complementarian’ patriarchists are.

What is Fundamentalist Patriarchy?

I have seen complementarianism described as ‘soft’ patriarchy or ‘two-point’ patriarchy as opposed to extreme fundamentalism’s ‘three point-patriarchy’: two-point patriarchy severely restricts women in the contexts of home (marriage) and the church, whereas fundamentalist patriarchy also includes restrictions within society at large. Complementarians may disapprove women working outside the home, especially if they have authority over men; but fundamentalist isolationism is even more extreme.

This fundamentalism is quite isolated from outside culture and makes sure wives and children are isolated as well. This isolation is expressed in several ways.

Fundamentalist Purity Culture. Most believers want their children to be chaste until they are married, but fundamentalists often carry this to the extreme. Girls are taught not only that their virginity is the most important thing they have to give to their eventual husbands (otherwise they are liked chewed bubble gum) but that even having a crush on a boy they do not marry takes away part of their heart that belongs to their future husband. So it is no surprise that a very popular book among fundamentalists is I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Among some fundamentalists, dating is replaced by a courtship ritual in which a young man approaches the father for permission to court his daughter; this is understood to be a prelude to marriage, and it is typical that their first kiss is at their wedding. Sometimes, marriages are even arranged by the fathers of two children of marriageable age.

Fundamentalist Homeschooling. There is nothing innately wrong with homeschooling if the parents are qualified to teach their children. I have a close friend who home-schooled his son and I believe that son had a superior education. However, a superior education is not the goal in fundamentalist homeschooling; instead homeschooling is used to prevent exposure to the evils of public school education.

Fundamentalist homeschooling focuses on the Bible and specifically rejects such public school features as evolution in favor of Young Earth Creationism. Homeschooling is sometimes delivered in group settings.

Fundamentalist home-schoolers use curricula prepared especially for fundamentalist culture, and the curriculum with which I am most familiar is woefully inadequate as educational material. It is heavily based on the Bible and ‘biblical’ doctrines, and learning involves rote memorization of manuals in order to provide ‘correct’ memorized answers on the prepared tests.

Homeschoolers often claim homeschooling is academically superior to public education, but many who try to attend college after homeschooling find they are not prepared or even that their education does not qualify them for college entrance.

The Quiverfull Movement. Many people are aware of the quiverfull movement through the TV show, 19 Kids and Counting, which featured the Duggar family. Quiverfull gets its name from Psalm 127:

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Quiverfull families (they do not usually call themselves that) believe that God gives them children as he wishes and usually do not believe in using birth control. The objective is to have as many children as possible. Many quiverfull families also have a second, ‘dominionist’, objective—to raise numerous children for several generations until there are enough advocates of their religio-political views to control the government.

As one might imagine, girls suffer most from this arrangement (even if they do not realize it) as several practical issues involve them:

1. Older girls are expected to help raise the younger children and even serve as substitute mothers for them.

2. Since they are expected to be only wives and mothers, they are discouraged from developing skills to work outside the home.

3. Instead of dating like most people do, they generally are subjected to a courting ritual or perhaps even an arranged marriage.

Those girls who ultimately reject this culture often carry a lot of resentment.


Extreme fundamentalist patriarchy may have terrible features not represented by most complementarians, but both are patriarchy—and both are extremely misguided and harmful. We will talk about complementarianism next time.

Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy

See also:


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30 Responses to Complementarian Patriarchy and Fundamentalist Patriarchy are Both Harmful; But How are They Different?

  1. Perry says:

    Excellent thoughts! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marjorie Weiss says:

    Both viewpoints encourage the kind of harassment that women deal with in our Society. Really sad stuff for little boys and girls to be raised in

    Liked by 1 person

  3. newtonfinn says:

    Every time I hear or read something about “Baptist” this or that, in this case, “Baptist traditions,” I wince a bit. I fully understand that Southern Baptists and other conservative Baptist sects have effectively cornered the market when it comes to the general public conception of “Baptist,” but I was raised in and ordained by one of the most openminded and inclusive of all Protestant denominations: The American Baptist Church, formerly called Northern Baptists. So to point out that there are a good many Baptists who stand 180 degrees apart from the conservative traditions that bear the same name, here’s a link to my local American Baptist organization. No hard feelings here in the least toward Tim or others who sometimes use the word “Baptist” with reference to the predominant rightwing versions. It’s just that the hijacking of the word by conservatives always bothers me, as it does with the word “Christianity” in general.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, being raised Baptist myself and quite familiar with the history of fundamentalism I realize that some Baptists are not conservative at all. During the fundamentalist controversies at the turn of the 20th century the Northern Baptist Church was one of the primary denominations involved. However, the fundamentalists were NOT successful in winning the Northern Baptist Church to fundamentalism. In fact, at least two new fundamentalist Baptist denominations were formed by leaving the Northern Baptist Church.

      I recommend the (now) American Baptist Church very highly as well as the Baptist Cooperative Fellowship that was squeezed out of the Southern Baptist Convention a few decades ago. Both of these groups, in my opinion, are fine representatives of good solid Christianity.

      I am sorry if I led anyone to think that all churches or groups from Baptist traditions are fundamentalists or patriarchal. They are not.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Paz says:

      newtonfinn, I think this is a really valuable comment!
      We cannot assume that every member who belongs to a specific church or denomination, that they ALL and ALWAYS must agree or believe in the same way! Just as we are many, collectively and individually different and yet we all share in the same love of Christ.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Chas says:

    Tim, Your comment that: ‘homeschooling is used to prevent exposure to the evils of public school education was of significance to me, as some churches organise their own schools for exactly the same reason. I once argued with a pastor that our church should not do it, since it was a response of fear, and it also prevented the children of our church from being a witness to ‘outside’ children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I agree that homeschooling in conservative churches carries a large measure of fear of the outside world and fear of losing children to the ‘lies’ of secular education. The isolation is so great that many teach that their homeschool children should not even be allowed to play with, mix with, or become friends with neighbor children who are education in public schools.

      This is an absolute crying shame! Not only can they not share Jesus; they cannot even be friends.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Paz says:

    Tim, as I was reading this article, one word kept coming to my mind: fear. With fear comes control. And yet it seems to me that one of the main messages in Jesus teachings is to love more so that we fear less.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Paz, I think you are right on target. I agree that it has a lot to do with fear and control. Now I also think most people who teach patriarchy really believe it themselves–but it still turns out to be fear and control.


  6. tonycutty says:

    Superb. As for ‘biblical manhood and womanhood’; last I heard, they have a Council now too 😉

    And surely Biblical manhood means slaying thousands or tens of thousands, having loads of wives and concubines, and having a bloke done in so you can steal his wife?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jamie Carter says:

    I grew up in Southern Baptist churches that have heavily moved toward the complementarian position in my time there. I think the worst example of what I experienced would be the times that the freshly-graduated youth pastor would ask for volunteers to lead the closing prayer; every time a young woman would raise her hand, he’d remind her, “God really wants to hear from the boys.” Since the girls outnumbered the boys 2 or 3 to 1, the boys would resent doing all the work of talking to God and the girls would all be jealous that they weren’t allowed to speak to God aloud. They tried to keep the boys in Sunday School groups in an effort to prepare them to be teachers one day, but the guys figured out that if they stopped showing up, they wouldn’t have so much pressure on their shoulders. The girls, on the other hand, were expected to volunteer in the kitchen making breakfast or snacks or they’d get stuck on the nursery rotation watching kids forever. Some Sundays, the deacons (all deacons, elders, and all pastors were always men, there were no women in positions of authority; only deacons’ wives, elders’ wives, and pastors’ wives and they were usually involved in the children’s ministry as per their role) would teach about a husband’s authority and a wife’s duty to submit, so at all levels they were reinforcing different roles and hamming the message home by teaching it from the higher levels on down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jamie. “God really wants to hear from the boys.” What an insult! Not just an insult to the ladies but to God as well. They really think that God wants to hear only from the boys? Kitchen duty; nursery duty. Imagine how much female giftedness they are missing in that congregation; and what a lack of balance. Also imagine the loss of opportunity for guys who like to cook and tend children.

      Yet I know this sort of subjugation and disrespect is true. And it is an affront to women.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. newtonfinn says:

    For those of us who grew up in the kind of mainline Protestant churches that, until just a few decades ago, used to shape Christian belief and practice in so many communities in the northern half of the United States, the scenario you describe seems as unreal as an alien civilization in a science fiction movie. These mainline churches were far from perfect (often failing, for example, to follow Jesus in prophetically confronting exploitation and oppression), but they did provide stable and healthy environments in which people could grow in their faith and their humanity, from childhood to old age. When these kinds of churches faded away, for some reasons we understand and some that perhaps we never will, there was nothing to take their place, no equivalent nurturing institution to develop the individual person and help glue together a well-functioning, well-meaning civil society. I have long believed that the demise of the mainline Protestant church is a greatly overlooked factor in the devolution of our country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I agree that the diminishment of mainline protestant churches is extremely unfortunate; but I think that they can still be found in most communities of some size–even in the South where they are surrounded by conservative congregations. Until recently, my church for a good number of years was Presbyterian (USA).

      Liked by 2 people

    • Paz says:

      “… but they did provide stable and healthy environments in which people could grow in their faith and their humanity, from childhood to old age.”
      “… nurturing institution to develop the individual person and help glue together a well-functioning, well-meaning civil society.”
      Newton, I think these are great principles to live by which also promote a strong foundation to family values, faith, love and mutual respect …

      Liked by 2 people

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