Sunday, November 16, 2014

Complementarity of the Sexes: A Trap

By Maureen Fiedler

Note: This commentary was first published November 14, 2014 by the National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis will address a conference on traditional marriage and the family in Rome (Nov. 17-19) headlined as dealing with the “Complementarity of Man and Woman.”

It is an interfaith conference with several noted conservative theological attendees, including Mormons, Southern Baptists, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California.

The conference was apparently initiated by very conservative German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What struck me, however, was the headline word: complementarity. It’s a word and concept long rejected by those who care about the equality of women and men in our world. Complementarity emphasizes the ways in which the sexes are different and thus is used as a support for traditional marriage. People who favor this concept argue that same-sex couples lack such complementarity, and this is an important sign that same-sex marriage is not part of God’s law.

But complementarity is also used to argue against the equality of women and men in general. It emphasizes the differences between the genders, rather than the fact that both share similar human qualities, and can hold similar positions in life. In the 21st century, we know that both men and women can and do have powerful intellects, leadership abilities, physical prowess, financial skills, a capacity for gentleness and caring, and a love of children. There is no innate reason why a woman cannot be a CEO of a corporation, a senator or President of the United States. And there is no innate reason a man cannot be a loving counselor, a cook or a full-time father and homemaker.

The emphasis should be on gender equality, not complementarity. What a difference that would make!

Looking at the title of this conference also reinforces my view that Pope Francis – wonderful man that he is – still needs a course in “Woman 101.” And maybe “Families 101” as well. His participation in this conference is just the latest sign that he has not moved into the 21st century when it comes to either gender roles or marriage.

Maureen Fiedler, SL, is the host of Interfaith Voices, a public radio show, heard on 62 radio stations in North America. She has been involved in interfaith activities for more than three decades as an active participant in coalitions working for social justice, racial and gender equality, and peace. Her special interests lie at the intersection of theology and public policy. She is a Sister of Loretto, and holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University in Washington.

Updates and Related Off-site Links:
Pope and Christian Conservatives Team Up to Promote Patriarchy – Patricia Miller (Religion Dispatches, November 20, 2014).
Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, November 17, 2014).
Francis Urges De-politicization of Family, Confirms US Visit – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 2014).
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology! – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 29, 2008).
How the Pope's Recent Remarks on Evolution Highlight a Major Discrepancy in Church Teaching – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 30, 2014).

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