A dear friend of mine recently asked me if complementarianism is used to justify sin. I gave this quick answer:
Yes. Just as I think egalitarianism can be used to justify sin, including sexual sin. For example, the guy who really thinks his secretary is hot and knows he shouldn’t be traveling alone in a car with her may tell himself, “It’s sexist to obey the Billy Graham rule.” Likewise, guys like me who are complementarians can say to themselves, “I’m the man of the house, and I don’t care if my wife says she needs more help around here; I’m going to do what I want. I’ve delegated all housework to her.” Or complementarian pastors or ministry leaders can start to “lord it over” their followers as the Gentiles do. They can take their legitimate authority—authority without which there could be no institution providing roles of service and flourishing for others—and abuse it.
The question is not whether any complementarians or egalitarians commit abuses, but whether there is a logical or necessary connection between either view and subsequent abuse. Egalitarians like to say that complementarianism is already abuse, but I think the most fairminded of them don’t say that. Tish Harrison Warren, for example, said something that touched me profoundly: “As a female priest, I’ve been publicly mocked and privately humiliated by men who not only oppose women’s ordination (a view from Scripture one could reasonably hold) but who are sexist and just plain mean.” I can’t deny that she’s been treated badly by complementarians. Rings true to me, sadly. What touched me was her parenthetical acknowledgement that complementarianism can be plausibly derived from Scripture. If that’s so, then no abuses can be traced back to it. Abusus non tollit usum. The question is what the Bible teaches. Does it teach that the office of elder and the role “head of the home” is restricted to males? Yes, I believe it does. And if so, then the abuses are not the fault of the viewpoint.