In admitting that she is routinely criticized for painting complementarians with too broad a brushstroke, blogger Rachel Held Evans recently asked: "Does the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood represent you? If not, what organizations or leaders do? Who are complementarians looking to for leadership these days?"

As a complementarian, I'm not interested in mounting a defense of male headship, and I don't want to become the poster child for complementarian theology. I myself am only held fast by exegetical threads. What's more, I am frequently embarrassed by the illogic and cultural bias that tends to frame some of the complementarian sound bytes (Boys shouldn't play with dolls, Dads who stay at home are man-fails, Christianity has a masculine feel, and so on).

Yet it's a fair question to ask: Who am I taking my theological cues from? If the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood doesn't speak for me, then who does?

Evans isn't the only one asking about today's complementarians. When I wrote "What You Don't Know About Complementarian Women," a commenter remarked, "Complementarians??? Good lord, people! What's with inventing all this terminology? Can't wait for the day when a brave soul publishes a Christian lingo dictionary."

These theological terms -- complementarian/egalitarian -- describe our theological understanding of gender roles in the church and family. They aren't our regular Sunday fare, and standard definitions often fail to capture the broad ways people live out each approach.

So who is it that represents my stance? I have two answers: Stanley Hauerwas, and Kyle Hackmann. They haven't laid out a thorough outline of what I think it means to be complementarian; instead, they articulate the need for us to understand theological principles like these within the context of the local church.

Hauerwas, theological ethics professor at Duke Divinity School and Time magazine's Theologian of the Year in 2001, is by no means a complementarian. However, Hauerwas loves the church. And so do I.

In his memoir, Hannah's Child, Hauerwas explores the trajectory of his theology. What immediately becomes plain is how the church stands central to his work:

I am not interested in what I believe. I am not even sure what I believe. I am much more interested in what the church believes. I have discovered that this claim invites the skeptical response, "Which church?" I can reply only by saying, 'The church that has made my life possible. The name of that church is Pleasant Mount Methodist, Hamden Plains Methodist, the Lutheran church at Augustana, Sacred Heart, Broadway Christian Parish, Aldersgate United Methodist, and the Church of the Holy Family."
Article continues below

This argument for embodied theology-- theology as a uniquely important for the church, the local church-- makes enormous sense to me. It acknowledges the thrust of Jesus' mission-- I will build my church-- and reminds me of the purpose of our theological conversation. We shouldn't simply be jousting over abstract principles; we should be discovering how God's Word mediates his presence and governs our lives here and now.

Here and now: these are terms that incarnate us in time and space. As Read Mercer Schuchardt, professor of media ecology at Wheaton College, has argued, the greatest "power and principality" we wage war against today is disincarnation, or the removal from our bodies.

And this brings me back to Evans' questions. By focusing on big names and organizations like the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, we overlook that each of us should primarily identify with the local church. Instead, it's assumed that complementarians look to some national leader or organization to whom they have pledged a kind of virtual loyalty. It's a disincarnating view of our Christian lives. Not only does it remove leadership (and its requisite dynamic of authority and submission) from its most common-sense context of relationship, it also makes complementarianism sound like a version of "tribe" from the playbook of Seth Godin.

Godin, in his book and TED talk, acknowledges that "tribes" as a sociological construct aren't new. What is new, however, is the way the Internet creates silos of interest and allows a virtual connection among the "true believers." The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a 25-year-old organization founded to "address their concerns over the influence of feminism" and "help the church deal biblically with gender issues," now has an expanding web presence and vocal, visible leaders, including executive director Owen Strachan. CBMW can function like exactly like this: it can connect the true believers of gender distinction, regardless of geography, and propel a complementarian movement.

But Christians should be wary of virtual tribes, which dislocate people and essentially disincarnate them. We should hold less loyalty to our theological affinity groups or "tribes" (CBMW, for example) and more loyalty to our local church, where the universals of theology can find their practical footing.

Article continues below

I don't take my cues from CBMW. Instead, I submit to the authority of my local church. Because they know me and the city in which I live, they are best suited for the role of shepherd. My theological struggles over gender roles (and I have them!) will have to be hammered out at Grace Toronto Church and what will likely remain its complementarian confines. That's okay with me. In fact, it's strangely consoling. It means I no longer have to endlessly chase the church whose theological particularities conform to my pet interests.

"Who are complementarians looking to for leadership these days?" In my case, it's my 20-something pastor, Kyle Hackmann, with his thick, unruly head of hair and an accompanying nervous tic to tame it. I vetted this article with him after worship on Sunday. And he promises me some Hauerwas book recommendations.