I am an egalitarian. I haven't always believed this way, but my history as a complementarian is a big part of the reson I'm an egalitarian today. My personal history as a complementarian is also central to one of my biggest issues with complementarians.
You see, I don't like not being taken seriously. I don't like being told that my experiences don't matter, that I must not have been "doing it right", and that I couldn't have possibly experienced what I experienced. And unless we're talking about things that are so incredibly essential to Christianity(things like the deity of Christ, His resurrection, etc) I really don't like being told that someone's doctrine or belief is the One Right Way, The Only Way to be a true believer. I don't like when people take non-essential doctrines and treat them as essentials, and judge people as if they were essentials.
(That's what complementarians have done with the gender/marriage issue. Egalitarians say, "This is a non-essential! Can't we agree to disagree, and walk in unity in the areas that we do agree?" And complementarians respond by saying, "Nope, sorry, because this actually is an essential doctrine to us. You see, if you misrepresent the marital relationship, you misrepresent the gospel." I believe this is a cop out- an easy way to try to avoid really engaging with the issue. I could say that about almost any non essential, but important doctrine. Do you believe in Calvinism? You've misrepresented the nature of God. Do you believe in Armenianism? You've misrepresented the nature of God. You believe in a post-trib rapture? How could the God of the Bible allow his children to experience His wrath by going through the tribulation? I could go on. The point is that gender roles are not an essential doctrine, and to elevate them to an essential doctrine requires the same kind of "theological gymnastics" that complementarians accuse egalitarians of.)
Elevating the non-essential to the essential- that's what complementarians do, you know. Not all of them, but a lot of them, especially the outspoken leaders of the movement. They make statements like this one from Nancy Leigh DeMoss:
"Before you go any further, I feel I should warn you that what you are about to read is not politically correct. It flies in the face of what we have been taught as 21 st-century, “liberated” women. It is contrary to our natural instincts. It will never be the majority position and is likely to make some women uncomfortable.
But I can assure you that it is the only path to true joy, peace, and fulfillment as a woman. You see, God made us, He loves us, and we can only be whole when we function according to His design for our lives." (emphasis mine)
Did you catch what she said there? Not, "in my opinion, this is the only way." Not, "as far as I know", or "what I've concluded". Nope, just "this is the only way". Do you know what that infuriates me so much? Because not only is the bolded statement completely false, but it totally invalidates my experiences. It tells me that what I've experienced is somehow wrong, that I'm somehow out of God's will and not fulfilling my full potential as a Christian woman.
(I'm not even going to go into DeMoss' "True Woman Campaign" today. The title alone is exclusive and elitist- as if anyone who doesn't believe that way is not a true woman- whatever that even means.)
How do I know that DeMoss' statement is false? I know because I've lived it. I grew up in a complementarian home. I can't even count the number of times my mother would exclaim how great it was that she was supposed to let my dad make all the big decisions, because then she didn't have to take any of the responsibility for them. It was the whole complementarian package- men were the leaders and women were the followers. Men were to make the big decisions and women were to submit. Women shouldn't be leaders in religion or politics(their pesky menstrual cycles rendered them too unstable for such things, obviously), and in most cases, women shouldn't work outside of the home- don't you know that the reason so many working mothers are unhappy is because they're not following God's prescription for their lives? My mom dropped out of college to marry my dad when she was just a couple credit hours short of her associates degree, and never went back.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that complementarianism played a huge role in literally destroying my family of origin. I'm not going to tell the whole story today(though more of that is coming soon), so for now you'll just have to take my word for it. By the time I reached adolescence, the marriage and family that looked so perfect on the outside was literally falling apart. My parents were on the brink of divorce, and I was confused and depressed. Even when my parents reconciled, their relationship still wasnt anywhere near healthy, and my mom wasn't happy or fulfilled(and neither was I). My dad passed away shortly after that.
Less than a year after my dad passed away, my mom remarried the most controlling, abusive man she could find, less than 6 weeks after meeting him. I belive with all my heart that this decision was a direct result of the fact that complementarianism had not allowed her to create her own identity outside of my father's. She didn't know who she was or how to function without a man to "lead" her. Her decision to marry this man has alienated her from the rest of her family, as he is so incredibly toxic it would be dangerous for any of us to be exposed to him.
I married shortly before my mother remarried, and complementarianism didn't do any favors to my marriage either. I was unhappy, unfulfilled, and oh-so confused- not because of my wonderful husband, but because of my perceived role as a Christian Wife, and because no matter how hard I tried(and I honestly believed at that point that it was the Right and Godly way for me to function as a woman) I just couldn't make it work for me. Thankfully, I was able to discover that there was a different way, my husband and I learned how to communicate and relate in a healthy way, and we now have a (mostly-we're not perfect)healthy and happy marriage. Not because of complementarianism. Oh no. Because I rejected complementarianism and found a healthy freedom in Christ, and in egalitarianism.
I have never felt more alive. I have never felt more peace, more contentment, more fulfillment. I have never felt closer to my husband, in every way. I have never felt closer to God or more dedicated to serving him with my life. I have never felt like I truly understood the heart of God in the way I'm beginning to now. It's been such a life altering, complete transformation that it's hard to describe in words- and it all started when I started questioning complementarianism. So how in the world could complementarianism be the key to a Christian woman's life?
This is why it makes me so angry when complementarians and much of the evangelical church at large shouts from the mountaintops that this is The Only Way. It's impossible for me to believe that way anymore. I simply can't believe that complementarianism is the only way, not when it destroyed my family, continues to rob my children of a grandmother, and nearly destroyed my own marriage. Don't tell me that's the only way when the only true fulfillment and purpose that I've been able to find has come after I rejected the teachings of complementarianism.
If it's working for you, I'm happy for you, really. I'm not going to tell you that you're misrepresenting the gospel, that you're a Jezebel, that you're corrupting the church, or that God is displeased with you(all things that egalitarians hear from complementarians on a daily basis). Don't I deserve the same respect? It's a different viewpoint, not the end of the world or the gospel, I promise. If complementarianism is working for your marriage, I'm so glad. But please, don't get angry when I point out the inconsistencies and warn you that it caused and continues to cause heartache for me. Don't tell me that I did it wrong, that I probably misunderstood something, and that I should probably just repent and try again. Please don't completely dismiss my experiences as irrelevant, because they're not.
Complementarianism is NOT the only way to live a fulfilled, Godly life as a Christian woman, and I stand every day, with so many others, as living proof of that.
This post is just the first of many to come on this topic. I hope that no matter which side of the issue you fall on, or if this post was your first exposure to the debate, that you'll continue to read as I share more of my story and my thoughts on this issue. There's so much more to my story than just what I shared in this post, and while I'll be sharing more of that in the future, for now I'll just hope you can do exactly what I argued for in this post- take me seriously, even without knowing all the details.