John Piper and the No True Complementarian Fallacy

It's hard out there for a complementarian. No one understands them. Whenever an argument erupts between complementarians and egalitarians in a comment section, complementarians are quick to say "What you're describing isn't true complementarianism!"

Well, then, what IS true complementarianism?

Complementarianism is the belief, held by many conservative Christians, that men and women are created by God to be fundamentally equal but different, and that their differences complement each other.

Oh! Well that sounds relatively harmless, I guess. I don't believe that myself, but to each their own, different strokes for different folks, etc. etc.

Furthermore, they believe that these differences preclude women from holding positions of leadership in the church or in their home. One of the differences between men and women, you see, is that women don't make good leaders. So men should lead the church (as pastors and deacons) and lead in the home (as husbands and fathers), and women should submit themselves to this leadership.

Oh. So they believe in a hierarchical relationship between men and women, with men as leaders? Isn't that oppressive?

At this point, John Piper, King of the Complementarians, would probably give an avuncular chuckle and shake his head. Because, you see, the men are actually supposed to be servant leaders. So there's no problem.

Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

Certainly not! says Piper, probably while waving his hands dramatically. You see, Jesus was a servant leader too! If the man leads like Christ, there's no problem!

I see. Well here's the thing: conservative Christians like Piper generally agree that Christ was perfect. So in saying this, they are essentially saying that in order for complementarianism to function properly, it requires a perfect husband.

Or, to put it another way, the more Christlike a husband is, the better a complementarian relationship will function.

This gives them a great deal of leverage when arguing with egalitarians. Any concerns that egalitarians raise about abuse of leadership by men can easily be dismissed. That's not true complementarianism!

A true complementarian would never abuse their wife, either physically or verbally, because Jesus never did that. A true complementarian would never abuse their authority in any way, because Jesus never did that. A true complementarian would never oppress a woman in any capacity, because Jesus never did that.

Right. Just like a pastor would never abuse their authority, right? Why I bet if I go ahead and google "pastor abuse authority" I wouldn't even get a single---

Oh. Well, obviously, those aren't REAL pastors! 

This line of "reasoning" is called the No True Scotsman fallacy. You make a statement, such as "All Scotsmen put honey on their porridge." The unfortunate consequence of this is that in order to disprove your statement, all I have to do is find one Scotsman that doesn't put honey on his porridge. When I find him and triumphantly show him to you, you simply shake your head and say "That's not a true Scotsman."

That's the problem with the complementarian philosophy (and with the conservative Christian philosophy in general). It's not enough to have a belief about how men and women relate. That belief has to be true for everyone. Everyone alive today, everyone who has lived, and everyone yet to be born. 

The problem arises because humans are a diverse bunch. They can't all be fit into the same mold. So questions arise. Like what to do if a complementarian husband abuses his wife. 

Piper's original line of reasoning is that the wife should involve the church authorities if this happens. Recently (four years after the statement in the previous link) he clarifies his position to say that women can involve the police if the church authorities can't resolve the situation.

At no point is the complementarian position violated. The abused woman is always under an authority - her husband, her pastor, or the civil authorities. In Piper's world, two out of the three are guaranteed to be male, and there's a good chance the third will probably be a man as well.

Well, what if the police can't resolve it either? Can the woman get a divorce?

I mean, I know it's next to impossible that the situation wouldn't be resolved by this point - we've involved not one, not two, but three men and their massive male brains! But, hey, humor me.

Hmmm...nothing about that in his "clarification". I don't believe he mentions it in the original video either. I'm sure it's just an oversight. I'll just pop over to and take a look...

Nope. I couldn't find anything in which Piper said that an abused spouse could get a divorce. (If someone can find me a link to such a document, I will gladly post it.)

This is the problem with making blanket statements such as "women must always submit to an authority" - what happens when all the authorities fail?

God, of course, is the final authority in Piper's mind. And God never fails, right?.

But no worries! John Piper believes that every bad thing that happens is God's will. For instance, when the Newtown massacre occurred, he said it was a warning from God.

So if you're a victim of abuse, take heart! In John Piper's mind, you're just doing God's work.

Note: I know abuse happens in all kinds of relationships and that it's not just husbands abusing wives. But Piper always talks about this kind of relationship, so that's why I framed my discussion in the same way.

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