There was a period several years ago when David and I were immersed in the topic of women in the church as there were people deliberately and systematically trying to deny my freedom and ability to use my gifts. We eventually worked out what we needed to for the situations we were in and moved on.
I would say at that point we ended up in a place of quasi-freedom as quasi-complementarians that dealt with the situation as best we could under the circumstances. But I was definitely in a place where I was less free than when I had started out. Then I was pregnant, had Caroline, developed other health issues, etc. At that point we were just trying to get through the very basics of each day so the issue of how I could function in the church was truly the least of our concerns.
I’ve been thinking about this topic again as it relates to how freely I can function in the life of a specific congregation and the church in general. God has slowly been drawing me back to freedom through this process. Most of the reading I’ve done hasn’t really changed my mind. It’s just solidified what I’ve already figured out. And what I have figured out is that there are very valid reasons why I am not a complimentarian and I am about this close to labeling myself an egalitarian, something I’ve never done before.
Before I start may I offer a disclaimer? I love my complimentarian brothers and sisters in Christ. Most of the blogs I read are written by those who would confess to be complimentarians. I think most of the people who read and comment here are probably also complementarians. So if you are a complimentarian, please don’t take this series as an attack on you personally and/or feel that you have to refute every single thing I write. Instead, I challenge you to consider what I have to say maybe in a way you haven’t before. (If you haven’t read Part 1, it is A New Series on A Woman’s Freedom in Christ.)
I’m not going to defend every bit of the egalitarian view. That isn’t my purpose. My purpose is to explain why I’m not a complementarian and the key factors that finally released me from the bondage of it. I realize many complementarians believe that their view is freeing. It is not to me or many other women in the church. For us, it is bondage. And so I’m going to offer some food for thought based on my own experiences and studying of the issue.
First off, neither view is air tight. Neither one can argue their case and leave absolutely no doubt that they are right. Any complementarian who cites Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 2:11- 15, and Genesis 3 as an open and shut case just isn’t dealing with everything in the Scriptures. I know there are many people who think they can pull out those three passages and the discussion is over. It isn’t. Not by a longshot. There are way too many other passages and examples in Scripture that can’t simply be dismissed out of hand and I will be writing about them in this series. But many complementarians view all of Scripture through those three passages rather than looking at all of the Scriptures and then trying to fit those passages into the whole of the book. There is a huge difference and that’s a topic I’ll come back to another day.
As I’ve interacted with people online I’ve observed that many (if not most) complementarians refuse to take egalitarians seriously. I’ve seen this over and over and over again in discussions. Their complete dismissal of the egalitarian view generally falls into a few different areas. These assumptions are considered to be gospel truth of anyone who dares to question the complementarian view. They include the following.
Egalitarians don’t value the Scriptures and twist them to their own ends
While I would agree that there are some very liberal parts of the church that do twist the Scriptures and take things out of context, most Christian egalitarians I have interacted with are Bereans (Acts 17:11) in every sense of the word. They are passionate about interpreting Scripture accurately and honestly.
Egalitarians are immersed in liberalism and it is destroying the church
Um, no. I think you find people of the egalitarian view in many conservative churches. There are probably also many egalitarians who attend conservative churches and keep their mouths shut for fear of recrimination.
Egalitarians don’t want to live biblically and have caved to the culture
Again, while I am sure you can find pockets of this thinking, it simply is not true for many (if not most) egalitarians. Most of the egalitarians I have interacted with are deeply concerned about living according to biblical truth. They are not interested in caving to the culture, but following Jesus.
Egalitarians think there is no difference between men and women and want a genderless society
The most basic understanding of biology makes it clear that men and women are different. It’s not rocket science. But being an egalitarian doesn’t mean a person wants a genderless society. Egalitarians believe that people should serve based on their gifts, not their gender.
Egalitarian women are power hungry
Power hungry people exist on both sides of the aisle and in every denomination. Just look at the political maneuvering going on in various denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Egalitarians are not by default driven by a desire to obtain power, but to serve and use their God-given gifts in a way that builds up the church and brings them joy. The lust for power is a human condition. I’m sure there is plenty of it to be had in both camps.
Women who espouse the egalitarian view are unwilling to submit
This is just wrong. Egalitarian women understand that submission is completely biblical. They regularly submit. But they see it as mutual submission amongst believers (including husband and wife) instead of an underling submitting to a superior.
Egalitarians are feminists
The word feminist has become such a loaded term and so negative in the eyes of many conservative Christians that you can just lob it out there and cause all real discussion to cease. Being a biblical egalitarian does not mean someone embraces secular feminism as portrayed in the most liberal branches of politics today.
Women who are egalitarians don’t care about their home, husband and children, but are selfishly looking out for their own advancement
Why does everything have to be black and white, one or the other? Why can’t a woman be an egalitarian and a stay at home mom? A homeschooling mom? A woman who likes to sew? A woman who bakes? A godly wife? A loving mother? There is nothing about being a biblical egalitarian that means a woman doesn’t love her family and home. An egalitarian seeks to serve the body of Christ in humility and this certainly includes her husband and children if she has them.
In future posts, I’ll be discussing some of the reasons why I think complementarians don’t take egalitarians seriously. I will share what I see as some of the problems and inconsistencies with the complementarian view. I’ll also be explaining why certain complementarian arguments that previously intimidated me no longer do.
The Bible clearly says…
As I was preparing to post this today, I came across a fantastic piece over at Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. Entitled Not So Clearly, Darcy has written an insightful post about the trump card frequently used in theological debate: “The Bible clearly says…” I’m going to address this more in a few other posts, but wanted to close with some quotes from Darcy’s post and an encouragement to go read the whole thing. It is fantastic.
It just kills me when someone quotes a scripture out of an English Bible and says “see? it’s really very clear and simple”. And it really gets to me when people downplay looking up the scriptures in their original language and say “well, it gets rather confusing when you do that. I just read it for what it says.” *face palm* Clearly they don’t understand the process of how that scripture went from God’s mouth to our hands. How in the world is a translation from the original language more “clear and accurate” than the original language?!
So far the only “clear” things I see in the Bible are this: God loves us, we blew it, Jesus lived, died, and lives again to redeem us, and the Christian life is all about loving God and loving people. Everything else is a little foggy but I’m OK with that. I’m determined to ask, seek, and knock, and never stop until I’m dead. God’s not going to strike me with lightning and send me to hell because I’m wrong about women’s roles, church authority, dress codes, eschatology, or kosher eating. He’s not threatened by my questioning. If that’s the kind of god you serve, then I’m not the one with problems.