A little while ago a reporter asked me to define “complementarianism.” She didn’t know what it meant. And that’s not entirely surprising.
The word “complementarity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, but is used by people to summarize a biblical concept. It’s like the word “Trinity.” The Bible never uses the word “Trinity,” but it undeniably points to a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Though the concept of male-female complementarity can be seen from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different. The need for such a label arose in response to the proposition that equality means role-interchangeability (egalitarianism)—a concept first forwarded and popularized in evangelical circles in the 1970s and 1980s by “Biblical Feminists.”
I’ve read several articles lately from people who misunderstand and/or misrepresent the complementarian view. I was at the meeting 25 years ago where the word “complementarian” was chosen. So I think I have a pretty good grasp on the word’s definition.