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Defining the terms of the gender-role debate

When discussing the role of women in the church, Christians use terms including “egalitarian,” “complementarian” and “traditionalist.”

They often disagree on what these terms mean.

Sources for this report offered these definitions:


This belief views men and women as equally able to teach, preach, lead prayers, lead singing, serve the Lord’s Supper and perform other duties in mixed-gender assemblies.

Full coverage: Women in the church

Ralph Gilmore of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., identified this view as “full egalitarian” but adds a second category, “modified egalitarian,” in which a woman may serve in any capacity except as an elder, deacon or preacher. Other researchers, however, view this second category as a form of complementarianism.

Loretta Hunnicutt of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., said that egalitarians “do not have a hard and fast definition by gender about what roles should be held but instead talk about individual gifting from God.”

Marchelle Barnes reads Scripture during worship at the Culver Palms Church of Christ in Los Angeles.

Marchelle Barnes reads Scripture during worship at the Culver Palms Church of Christ in Los Angeles.


This belief views men and women as partners in ministry who play differing roles based on gender. Some also refer to this belief as traditionalist.

Women in complementarian churches teach Bible classes, lead prayers and lead singing only when the students are other women or children.

“My understanding is that complementarians believe men and women are gifted differently by God to handle different roles,” Hunnicutt said. “Generally, men provide public leadership in church, and women provide private leadership in homes.”

Gilmore said, “I do believe women have ministries because they’ve been given gifts by God for those. I do believe we are co-ministers together in teaching but not co-preachers and co-elders. I do think women are given gifts for ministry and need to honor those in context of God’s Word.”

Filed under: complementarian egalitarian gender inclusive gender issues and Christianity gender roles National News women in leadership women in the church women's role women's roles

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