Al Mohler: Complementarian theology 'can and has' led to the abuse of women in the church

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. delivers a chapel address at Southern Seminary on October 15, 2019.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. delivers a chapel address at Southern Seminary on October 15, 2019. | YouTube/Screengrab

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. has said that complementarian theology “can and sometimes has” led to the abuse of women in the church and stressed that the SBC must “take responsibility” for failing to hear the cries of those who have spoken of such abuse.

During a chapel message delivered at Southern Seminary on Oct. 15, Mohler answered the question: “Is complementarianism a cause of the abuse of women and girls?”

Complementarian theology is the idea that women have distinct roles in the family and church and are forbidden from holding certain offices in the church. 

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“It can be, and it sometimes is,” Mohler admitted. “Sinful men will use anything in vanity and in anger, in sin of every form. Sinful men will distort anything and will take advantage of any argument that seems to their advantage, even to the abuse of women.

“Some men have cited complementarian doctrine as an excuse for lording over their wives rather than leading and serving,” he said, “and even taking advantage to the point of abuse and denying that abuse is abuse.”

Southern Baptists, he stressed, must “take responsibility” for their doctrine and recognize “it can be abused in such a way that women are hurt and abused and not advocated for and not believed.”

“There is a real sex abuse crisis in our midst,” he warned. “It is our responsibility to make certain not only that we hold to biblical doctrine — that’s not negotiable — but that our doctrine is fully biblical and demonstrates the Spirit of Christ and the fullness of what the Bible calls us to.

“We need to recognize that we have sinned against women when we have allowed complementarian to be presented in a way that implies male superiority and leads in sinfulness to male tyranny and terror and sin,” Mohler declared.

“We need to take responsibility for the fact that we as a denomination, as churches, have often failed to hear the cries of women who have spoken of their abuse, and we bear the responsibility for a failure to deal adequately, christianly, responsively as husbands who love their wives as Christ loves the church should respond to the cries of any women.”

“Thus, we have work to do,” he stated.

But rightly understood, complementarianism “produces husbands who love their wives as Christ loves the church, and they love their wives as they love their own bodies,” Mohler said.

“We’ve received a wake-up call that we be very aware that there are those who will use any doctrine to their sinful advantage,” he said. “So, it’s incumbent on us to clarify and to testify and to advocate.

“So, do I believe that complementarianism leads to the abuse of women? I will tell you that yes, it can and it has, but that’s not the source of the problem,” he clarified. “The source of the problem is human sinfulness — pride and arrogance. And yes there are patterns of male pride and male arrogance and male terror that haunt us.”

“But I believe the embrace of the fullness of what God has revealed in Scripture is actually the only way to find healing and hope and accountability in Gospel churches that are rightly ordered and [where] women are rightly honored and in Gospel homes where husbands love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her,” he concluded. 

Earlier in his message, Mohler explained that complementarian theology teaches that men and women are both “same and different”: While both sexes are created in the image of God, they have important biological and vocational differences.

This biblical teaching is “not about male superiority and female inferiority,” he explained, nor is it about “all men being in authority over all women in society or in the Church.”

Moore also emphasized that “women deserve the deepest theological and biblical education,” adding that that Southern Baptist seminaries “gladly” accept women into their Ph.D. programs.

“I want to encourage women to study God and the Bible and theology,” he said. “And that means that every male student in this seminary owes every female student in this seminary the utmost respect — and seeing them as those who are also called to the glory of God to the important role in the church and an important role in the classroom here.”

In recent months, the SBC has sought to repent for its practical and theological failures regarding sexual abuse within its churches. The issue made headlines earlier this year after a Houston Chronicle investigation found credible abuse allegations against 380 SBC church leaders. 

Earlier this month, the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission held the Caring Well conference, a three-day event attended by more than 1,600 Southern Baptist pastors, leaders, and laypeople. During the Dallas event, pastors, abuse prevention experts, and survivors shared how to identify, prevent, and address sexual abuse within the church. 

Bible teacher Beth Moore, herself a survivor of sexual abuse, addressed whether or not complementarian theology is to blame for the abuse crisis within the SBC. 

“The answer’s 'no,'” she said. “Sin and gross selfishness in the human heart cause abuse. Demonic influences cause abuse.”

"However,” she continued, “has a culture prevalent in various circles of the SBC formed and burgeoned out of it contributed to it? Absolutely, and heavily.”

Complementarian theology, Moore explained, became “such a high, core value, that it inadvertently ... became elevated above the safety and well-being of many women.

“So high a core value has it become that in much of our world complementarian theology is now conflated with inerrancy,” she stressed. 

Moore lamented that “so few women” are in any visible areas of leadership in both SBC congregations and SBC seminaries.

“Women who are being abused by the system itself, or within it by people that are in places of power, don’t even have a female to turn to,” she contended. “They don’t even know where to go.”

During the event, poet and hip-hop artist Jackie Hill Perry also shared how she was sexually abused as a child. When she grew up and got married, Perry said she had difficulty accepting her husband’s complementarian view based on her past experiences.

“He wanted to lead me well, but complementarianism as it looks when lived was terrifying when I remembered the last time I let a boy lead me,” she said.

Watch Mohler's full address on complementarian theology below.

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