The Complementarity Tango image

The Complementarity Tango

“There’s a complementarity when men and women dance which is different when couples are the same sex. I would happily dance with AJ or Anton, but I get the aesthetic argument.”

That was the Rev. Richard Coles, supporting the BBC’s decision not to feature same-sex dance partners on Strictly Come Dancing. Coles is a former contestant on the show, as well as being probably the best known vicar in the UK, and gay, all of which made his comments more interesting. Especially interesting as he chose to use the word complementarity, almost as if he had been at a recent conference organised by Andrew Wilson of this parish.

Interesting that Coles should see this complementarity in terms of aesthetics: that there is something more aesthetically pleasing about a man and a woman dancing together than two partners of the same sex. This is significant as the fight for the acceptance of same-sex relationships has in large part been an aesthetic one: the shift in many people’s minds and emotions from what might once have elicited a ‘yuk’ response to an approving ‘aww’.

Yet we just cannot escape the reality of complementarity and in seeing the sense of it in a TV dance show Coles is really acknowledging not only aesthetics but biology. If, as the saying goes, dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire, then of course dance works better aesthetically when it is performed by partners of the opposite sex – because sex is complementarian in its design. It doesn’t only take two to tango, but a man and a woman to put that horizontal desire into fruitful effect.

When your eyes are opened to the reality and beauty of complementarity you start seeing it everywhere. At the Think conference on complementarity (Andrew assures me that videos of the sessions and accompanying posts are soon to appear here) there was some dissatisfaction from a number of delegates that the speakers didn’t get to ‘application’. Instead, they resolutely focussed on painting a big picture narrative of what complementarity looks like. That some found this frustrating was odd to me: because once you grasp the big picture narrative the practical implications begin to fall obviously into place. They don’t need to be spelt out in legislative detail as some in the complementarian camp have tended to do. Indeed, a significant problem with the complementarian movement has been its focus on application without sufficient foundation. Get the foundations right and the applications can be worked out organically in communities of believers. They should start to become as obvious as the aesthetics of dance.

If, for example, you read 1 Timothy having grasped the big picture narrative of complementarity and thus see the letter as describing how a healthy household operates, tricky verses like 1 Timothy 2:12 become a lot less tricky (something I have previously posted on here). Like Coles recognising the aesthetic argument as to why Strictly works better with the complementarity of opposite sex dancers, everything works better when we recognise complementarity. Complementarity is how human beings were designed to work – biologically, aesthetically, relationally, spiritually.

Which isn’t to say that those who are same-sex attracted should just stop it; or that working out the practicalities of how men and women function in church leadership teams is always easy; or that marriage is always perfect. Of course not. But it is to say that our complementarity as men and women is undeniable – or rather, it is deniable only to our harm. And that’s not just about who gets to dance with AJ or Anton.


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