With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, the competition for the evangelical vote seems to have become a two-man race between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Last week, Rubio made another move to win that race-within-the-race, announcing the formation of a 15-member religious liberty advisory board that will advise the campaign on issues including the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the freedoms of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage.
The 15-member board includes megachurch pastor Rick Warren, some prominent lawyers, a few college presidents, a respected historian, a rabbi, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and so on. But there’s one name on Rubio’s list that stood out to me: Wayne Grudem, an architect of the movement to “defend” evangelical Christianity from feminism.
Within American evangelicalism, there are two broad camps when it comes to gender issues. Egalitarians—some of whom identify as feminists—believe that gender should not be a barrier to any kind of leadership. Complementarians believe that while men and women have equal value in the eyes of God, men are specially designed for leadership roles. These tenets generally apply to the church (e.g., can women be pastors?) and the home (should the husband the leader of the household?), although some also apply them to the workplace and the public sphere. The theological debate revolves around the meaning of the fall in Genesis and a handful of tricky New Testament passages like the one in Ephesians that begins: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”
Grudem is one of the leading proponents of complementarianism. In fact, he has claimed a role in coining the term—a hideously clunky and unintuitive term, it must be said. In 1988, he co-founded an organization named Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which exists “to help the church defend against the accommodation of secular feminism.” The year before, he was among a group of concerned evangelicals who gathered in Danvers, Massachusetts, to write the Danvers Statement, a mission-defining document that reads in part:
- In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership …
- In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.
Grudem’s 1991 anthology Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood lays out the intellectual foundation for complementarianism in greater detail. Co-edited by pastor John Piper, it is perhaps the movement’s most important text. (Piper, for his part, argued last year that “it would be hard for me to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant … over men without violating their sense of manhood and her sense of womanhood.”) Though Grudem has written on other theological topics, he continues to promote the idea that opposition to feminism is integral to the Christian faith, writing or editing books with titles like Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? (2006). He remains on the (all-male) board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
In the late 1980s, the question of feminism as a threat to Christianity became a lightning rod within the evangelical church, thanks in large part to Grudem’s efforts. The year of the Danvers Statement, a group of egalitarian Christians founded a rival organization called Christians for Biblical Equality. When I was a kid in the late 1980s, my parents’ church in Illinois endured a painful split when its pastor and the majority of the congregation opted to leave over issues including the role of women in the church.
These days, though no consensus has been reached and dustups still occur, the excitement has cooled. By the time I was enrolled in an evangelical college in the late 1990s, the student chapters of CBMW and CBE attracted little interest on campus. (I should know: I was the president of the egalitarian club for a few years.) Today, various churches and families are settled in their viewpoints, and people choose the spaces that fit them best. In my experience, there are a lot of marriages that are complementarian in theory and egalitarian in practice. But that doesn’t mean these issues don’t matter, or that people like Grudem wouldn’t like to see them pushed to the forefront again.
I can’t claim to know why Marco Rubio appointed Grudem to his religious liberty board. (The Rubio campaign did not respond to questions I sent them last week about Grudem’s views and why he was selected.) I certainly don’t know what the Catholic Rubio personally believes about the theology of complementarianism, if he’s given it much thought at all. He told a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network last year, “If you can’t lead your family, you can’t lead a country,” but he has also referred to the spiritual leadership of his family as a role he plays “alongside my wife.” For what it’s worth, the Southern Baptist church he often attends in Miami states that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Wayne Grudem would surely approve.